Creating Calm, Comfort and ConnectionJune 15, 2020
In these times that have been at best unusual and at worst traumatic and overwhelming what we all need is some calm, comfort and connection.
Children particularly so as they often lack the maturity, or social and emotional development to be able to regulate alone, and let’s be honest emotions can feel pretty scary.
Home and school environments are obviously very different, just like a parent child relationship is different from a teacher child relationship but there are certain principle’s that apply to both – though implementation of those will differ in each situation.
Calmness starts with you, the adult. Emotions are contagious, I’m sure we’ve all had experiences of being around someone who is stressed, or worse still a whole group of people, and before long we ‘pick it up’. Children can be especially sensitive to the emotional state of the adults around them. Step one then is to make sure as an adult that you are calm and maintain that calmness. That means being very honest with yourself, taking your own emotional temperature regularly and then taking action to self-regulate and stay calm.
Clearly this links to self-care. If we regularly make sure we are doing things that support our emotional well-being we will find it easier to stay calm and to regulate when the situation is highly charged.
We hear a lot about it but the importance of looking after ourselves really cannot be overstated. We’ve all heard the quotes
‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’
‘put your own oxygen mask on first’
And many others, but of course theoretically acknowledging that looking after ourselves is important and actually making time to do that in busy lives, with often multiple responsibilities is much more of a challenge.
So, I’d invite you to take a bit of time to consider what you do to take care of yourself, how you ensure this is a priority and what strategies you have to calm yourself in the moment. It is not only good for your own well-being but arms with a number of ideas to share with those who need some co-regulation. What is often most effective is regular ‘doses’ of calming regulating activities.
There are two aspects to this. The first is comfort – how we create space to support those who are hurting or distressed and need comfort and the second is about creating environments where people feel safe, or comfortable.
Comfort and soothing happen in the context of close relationships so one priority must be to allow time for relationships to be developed and nurtured. We know that healing happens in the context of relationships, it is never a waste of time to prioritise relationships and given recent circumstances it is especially important that there is a focus on maintaining and nurturing relationships.
In training about trauma and attachment we often explore the issue of safety and specifically that idea that feeling safe and being safe are two very different things. Children who have experienced trauma are often hyperalert to danger cues and misinterpret a whole host of situations as threatening. As adults many of us experience feeling safe and being safe as the norm – so in order for people to put themselves in the shoes of child I will often ask folk to think about situations where they may feel uncomfortable. People often mention being in unfamiliar surroundings or with people they don’t know, things being uncertain or unpredictable, aggression or hostility, raised voices, being asked to donthings they don’t feel confident about, other people’s expectations of them and many more.
We tend to feel safe or ‘comfortable’ when environments and people are familiar, when routines are predictable, when things happen they way they usually do, when we know who will be around to help us, when we know clearly what is expected of us and what to do if there are problems.
Children who have been at home may have found the whole experience of ‘lockdown’ one of uncertainty and unpredictability, perhaps with lots of stress and anxiety. Parents may have worked hard to create routines and predictability with greater or lesser success – it is a tough call. Others may have found it a time of calm and relaxed routines. Some may be very eager to get back to school, others may feel stressed and anxious at the mere mention of a return to school.
Children and young people returning to school may find it is very unfamiliar and unpredictable, they may be with different staff, they may be unsure of new ‘rules’ and they may be highly anxious themselves, or may pick up on adult anxiety. They may have all sorts of fears as they may have ‘got the wrong end of the stick’ about lots of different facts, heard snippets of news etc or they may have experienced loss and bereavement, and for some vulnerable children deprivation, neglect, conflict, violence or abuse. There will be a lot in need of comfort, some in need of actual safety, and many who need to feel comfortable in this ‘new normal’.
Humans are hard wired for connection with other humans and we all know how to build relationships, – I’ve put a brief list of things below – certainly not exhaustive!
- Spend time together
- Share activities
- Find out about each other – likes dislikes interests etc.
- Be open, honest, kind and respectful in communication
- Enjoy fun and laughter
- Show interest in each other’s ‘world’ – feelings, concerns, joys
- Express pleasure in each other’s company through facial expression, body language and where possible (acknowledge this is tough at the moment in some settings) touch
- Noticing things about each other
- Eye contact
Creating situations where there are opportunities for the above will help build and nurture relationships. Students are more likely to learn when their need to belong is met, when they feel safe, calm and know they will be supported when necessary.
As we have probably all experienced our emotional wellbeing is tied up with the relationships we have and the support we get from those vital connections. Children may have missed school staff and contact with peers acutely and will be keen to pick up where they left off. The onus is on us as adults to be creative in the ways we can support relationships to ensure emotional support while following guidelines to keep everyone physically safe.
Healing happens in the context of relationships and so does learning. The notion that we can prioritise learning over relationships is flawed especially for children who are vulnerable because they have experienced trauma, adversity or attachment issues.
Whenever and however the return to school happens for particular children and young people there will be a need to create environments that are calm, offer comfort and support human connection, that is where the all-important process of healing and recovery will begin.
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