Sunday, November 15, 2015

Coping with Tragedy

If anyone asked me to recall my actions on the mornings of September 11, 2001, December 14th, 2012, or April 15, 2013, I'd be able to do so instantly. These were days that, for me, were wrought with unspeakable tragedy and heartache in America. All three were vastly different in execution but held a similar kind of emotional impact in regards to reminding us about our vulnerability to terrorism and extreme violence towards innocent civilians.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, I felt it important to share resources about how to best support our kids during these uncertain/unsettling times while encouraging acceptance/tolerance. Children will ask questions and seek to understand how and why these events have occurred. While working in a town just outside of Boston, Massachusetts, this was very much the case after the marathon bombings. I got to see firsthand that children's reactions can vary dramatically, and also that their exposure to constant news footage about the incident can result in much confusion and stress. Some of our younger students could simply not differentiate between the past and present, meaning that they felt as though the bombings were still going on and their sense of security, as a result, was threatened due to the constant media coverage.

The National Association of School Psychologists has developed handouts for parents and teachers which allows us to better understand how we can help children cope with acts of terror. The following tips are ways that we can best offer support:

  • Establish a sense of safety and security
  • Help children to process their thoughts and feelings-->Be a good listener and observer!
  • Let children know it's okay to have many different feelings and there is no "right" way to respond
  • Monitor and limit exposure to media, including social media and other internet sites
  • Be honest about what occurred yet be mindful of using developmentally appropriate language
  • Provide ways for children to express emotion, such as journaling, writing letters, talking, art or music
  • Focus on resiliency as well as the compassion of others
  • Identify the various ways in which people are helping; empathise the ability to do good
According to NASP, equally as important is modelling compassion and acceptance of differences through words and behaviour. Be keenly aware of how adult reactions influences children's perceptions. In one article, "Promoting Compassion and Acceptance in Crisis," tips to prevent  prejudice and hate is discussed in greater depth. This is particularly important given the nature of the attacks and our commitment to raising globally-minded, empathetic and tolerant students. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015


As a school counsellor, I often work with children to help them cope with and problem-solve around issues related to friendships, relationships with parents and siblings, motivation, anxiety, executive functioning and mood. What I've seen, however, is that the common denominator between all of these is that they can be extremely stress-evoking. Stress can exacerbate nearly every "small" hurdle in our lives, from the broken zipper on our backpack, to forgetting our lunch, to scrambling to get to work or school on time. Stress can also be felt when an individual important to us is experiencing it themselves. Countless studies have examined parental stress and its effects on child development, with results being clear: high levels of stress has a negative impact on our kids.

One of the most powerful job duties I (and parents) have is to build our children's toolbox for how to effectively manage all kinds of stress. And while I don't try to necessarily minimise issues that students discuss with me, I almost always attempt to have them evaluate both the size of their problems and whether or not their reactions are an appropriate response. Sometime using a scale such as the one depicted in my office can be very useful in helping children both quantify and qualify their level of stress.

So, when given the chance to talk to our third graders about the effects of exercise on the mind, I jumped at it. Why? Because I was excited to start the conversation around how stress influences us and introduce various "stress busters" that kids can use to combat it. Here is a picture from that lesson taken from the Grade 3 @ Seisen blog. Many thanks to Mr. Lewis for snapping the photo!

According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), symptoms of stress in children include:

  • Irritability or unusual emotionality  
  • Sleep difficulties or nightmares 
  • Inability to concentrate 
  • Drop in grades or other functioning 
  • Toileting or eating concerns
  • Headaches or stomachaches 
  • Unexplained fears or anxiety (that can also take the form of clinging) 
  • Regression to earlier developmental levels 
  • Isolation from family activities or peer relationships 

To prevent stress, parents can ensure their kids are getting enough sleep (at least 10 hours per night, according to the Center for Disease Control), eating healthy meals and snacks and have time to relax or participate in favourite chosen activities. Fostering close, supportive and open relationships is equally as important, in addition to allowing children to learn from their mistakes without harsh criticism and by utilising fair, consistent and positive discipline approaches. Of most importance, perhaps, is making sure your child feels physically and emotionally safe.

Mr. Lewis and Ms. Doyle's students were eager to share some of their personal stressors. Some of the "stress busters" they talked about included exercise, expressing their feelings, discussing problems (as opposed to keeping things bottled up), yoga/meditation, and participating in clubs and activities that are enjoyable. If these strategies are continuously reinforced by parents and teachers, we will be doing our part to minimise the negative effects of stress and continue to build resilience in our children.

For more information on stress, please visit the following websites: