Challenging Behaviors: How Directors Can Help

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We’ve been thinking a lot about how administrators of early childhood programs and schools can support staff, families, and children when challenging behavior appears.

Directors, supervisors, head teachers, principals–whatever they may be called–have a crucial role to play in enabling children with problem behavior to succeed.

Read all about it in our article, “Challenging Behaviors: How Directors Can Help,” in the November-December 2018 issue of Exchange magazine.

Do you have tips for supporting the people in your program in this situation? We’d love to hear from you.


Immigrant Children: An Update

We know: We’ve already written about the immigrant children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexican border. But in the avalanche of news we live with on a daily basis, these children aren’t making headlines any more, and it’s altogether too easy to forget about them. So here’s an update, and a short summary: For most of them, the situation isn’t getting better.

The Trump administration is no longer separating children from their parents when they cross the border into the U.S. illegally.

Instead, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) is putting the whole family—including very young children—into detention together.

At the moment, a legal settlement bans officials from detaining children longer than 20 days, but the administration is trying to overturn that ruling and keep them in shelters until their asylum claims are settled one way or the other. That is, indefinitely.

This would mean building more and bigger mass shelters—and endangering more and more children, who suffer serious and long-lasting harm from being institutionalized, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The administration also wants to halt inspections at these shelters (several of which already face abuse charges) and make it significantly harder for children to be released to the custody of family members and friends.

In the meantime

Over 500 children who were taken from their parents earlier in the year still have no idea of when—or whether—they’ll see them again. Some parents have been declared “ineligible” for reunification, and 300 plus have been deported. No one knows where they are.

Non-profit organizations have shouldered the job of locating and matching them with their offspring, but the work is grueling and time consuming, especially since the administration insists that reunification take place in the family’s home country, where there is often no phone service and people speak neither English nor Spanish.

Then parents must decide whether to bring their children home and relinquish their hopes of asylum, or to let their children stay in the U.S. and pursue asylum alone.

This is a no-win situation. No matter what happens next, children are experiencing extreme fear and toxic stress, and their future is likely to include developmental delays, PTSD, and other mental and physical health challenges.

Living with trauma

You may be seeing some of these children–or others who’ve lived through traumatic events–in your classroom. If so, be aware that they and their families will require extra sensitive attention and security.

If you’ve already encountered children with these experiences, how have you managed? Have you been able to help them? If so, what have you done and what works?

 


Forcible Separation and Toxic Stress

 

 

Many migrant families have finally been reunited with their children, but the parents of some got an unpleasant surprise: Their youngsters didn’t recognize them.

A considerable number also found their sons and daughters to be utterly changed—anxious, clingy, shell-shocked.

“Inside he carries a sadness,” said one father of his 3-year-old son, from whom he’d been separated for 3 months.

Last summer the Trump government quietly started separating children and families at the U.S.–Mexico border and this spring accelerated family separation with its “zero tolerance” policy for entering the U.S. illegally. Now faced with a court order to reunify these families, it has declared more than 900 parents “ineligible” for reunification and deported at least 463 others whose children remain in the U.S. with no known way to rejoin their families.

Although 2500-plus families may eventually be successfully reunited, more than half of them are still under threat of deportation and may have to choose whether to take their children or leave them behind. In the meantime, all of them are struggling to deal with this newest trauma on top of the violence and poverty they came to the U.S. to escape.

The science is clear 

The effects of this separation will be lasting.

The ability to handle a threatening or frightening situation is critical to survival, and when a threat looms, the brain instantly readies us to deal with it. The steroid hormone cortisol and other stress hormones flood in, automatically putting us into freeze, fight, or flee mode.

Once the threat recedes, the stress levels in children with well-functioning stress systems return to normal. But forcible separation from a parent is no normal stressor, especially for young children whose brains are still developing. It delivers a totally different degree of trauma, one that produces toxic stress with a disproportionate punch.

It can alter their brain structure and stunt their cognitive development, and it can “shape the child’s body and brain to anticipate danger and prepare for the worst,” says Dylan Gee, who researches the impact of early-life trauma on the developing brain at Yale University.

In addition, such separation disrupts attachment—the safe, stable, caring relationship with a primary caregiver that is so essential to a child’s sense of self, safety, and trust, hence to healthy functioning. Many children may wonder what’s wrong with them or what they’ve done wrong that caused their parents to abandon them, points out Brenda Jones Harden, a professor of child development at the University of Maryland.

Usually, a parent’s presence can reduce a child’s level of cortisol. Hugging, snuggling, and kissing have a calming effect because they induce the release of oxytocin and buffer the stress response. But when there’s forced separation, there’s no parent present, and in the government shelters where children are housed (even the so-called “tender age” shelters for young children), no one is allowed to touch, hold, or pick them up, including their siblings.

What are the effects?

The greater the stress and the longer it lasts, the greater the risk to the child. Without appropriate intervention—so unaffordable and so hard to access in Spanish—the problems of forcible separation can last a lifetime. Here are some of them:

  • Heightened risk of mental health difficulties (posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, ADHD, and behavior problems like anger, aggression, and withdrawal)
  • A lifelong risk for heart, pulmonary, and liver disease, even cancer
  • Hypervigilance, where the child is very reactive to the environment and can’t sit still or concentrate, which impairs learning
  • Delayed development of executive functions including self-regulation and impulse control
  • Atrophied cognitive functions such as memory and communication
  • Regressive behavior (toileting issues, slowed speech development)
  • Disturbed attachment (inability to experience healthy social relationships and boundaries as well as trust)
  • Flashbacks and intrusive thoughts
  • Physical complaints (sleep and eating troubles)
  • Higher risk of drug addiction and suicide attempts

What can we do?

One of these days, some of these children—or children who’ve experienced similar traumas and toxic stress—may appear in your school or early childhood classroom.  Here’s some advice garnered from the National Research Center on Hispanic Children and Families, Child Trends, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and the book  Reaching and Teaching Children Exposed to Trauma by Barbara Sorrels:

  • Most important, provide consistent, sensitive, responsive care. Children who’ve experienced trauma need to be physically and psychologically close, even when they display inappropriate behavior. “The underlying message we want them to hear is that we will love them through their unlovely behavior. Rather than abandon them, we will hang in there with them and help them find new ways of behaving.” [Sorrels, p. 132]
  • Recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma
  • Maintain regular eating and sleeping routines
  • Show physical affection
  • Show patience if a child cries excessively, regresses, develops severe separation anxiety, or shows difficulty with self-regulation. All of these are natural responses to childhood trauma
  • Plan plenty of play and exercise to help metabolize stress hormones
  • Listen and provide honest age-appropriate information. You can say, “I don’t know the answer, but I’ll let you know when I do.”
  • Identify trauma reminders that may lead to trauma responses and teach the child coping strategies

What do you think?

Have you had any experience with children who’ve endured trauma or toxic stress? What tactics worked best for them?

Photo by Java Cafe

 


Mindfulness, Children, and Teachers: The Sound of Silence

 

 

 

Question: What do hundreds of thousands of children worldwide have in common with Google employees, US military personnel, the Seattle Seahawks, and the Boston Red Sox?

Answer: They all practice mindfulness.

 

 

 

 

No matter which mindfulness program or app is guiding them—whether it’s Calm Classroom, Mind Yeti, MindUP, Mindful Schools, Quiet Time, Inner Kids, Kindness Curriculum, or one of the many other programs available—it is sure to stem from the Buddhist tradition of meditation.

In the late 1970s, Jon Kabat-Zinn, a biologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, realized that a non-religious form of meditation, which he dubbed “mindfulness,” might help patients deal with chronic pain.

His hunch was right. Since then, studies have shown that Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program—and its many offspring—reduces chronic pain, as well as lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, stress, anxiety, and depression. Mindfulness is even used to treat post-traumatic stress, rheumatic arthritis, eating disorders, immune disorders, insomnia, and irritable bowel syndrome.

So what is mindfulness?

Kabat-Zinn defined mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.” He saw it as a way to train the mind, which he thought of as being like a muscle: With exercise, it could get stronger.

The exercise he chose—and the core of most mindfulness programs—is concentrating on one’s own breath. That is, he taught people to select a quiet spot, sit still, close their eyes, and focus on their breathing. When their attention wandered, as it inevitably does, they learned to observe their thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judging them, then to gently bring their attention back to their breath and the present moment.

Kabat-Zinn also taught patients to perform a body scan, a second way to train their attention. They could lie quietly, concentrate on each tiny bit of their body in turn, and notice how each part feels, from their scalp to their toes.

What does mindfulness do?

Practicing these exercises develops:

  • Attention. Because our minds have a tendency to roam, mindfulness asks us to concentrate on the here and now—the present, not the past or the future. It helps us to focus and switch our attention more easily when situations change.
  • Awareness. With mindfulness we become aware of each one of our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations and see it more calmly, clearly, and accurately.
  • Acceptance. Mindfulness allows us to accept our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations without judging them or reacting to them; it enables us to be neutral, open, curious.

Through the practice of mindfulness, we cultivate the ability to observe, recognize, and change ordinary patterns, to become more reflective, calm, empathic, and kind, and to achieve greater control of our actions.

Is mindfulness just for adults?

At first Kabat-Zinn and his followers prescribed mindfulness only for adults. But eventually people began to think that mindfulness could help children, too.

As they grow, their brains are learning how to regulate their attention, thoughts, and emotions; and researchers now theorize that mindfulness practice could help to shape children’s neural networks and support their emotional regulation and executive function, which develop rapidly in the preschool years.

Mindfulness targets self-regulation, and recent research has shown that the ability to self-regulate in childhood makes a huge difference. In fact, it predicts everything from kindergarten readiness to SAT scores to adult health, income, educational achievement, and criminal activity.

The research on children and mindfulness is promising but preliminary, meaning we need more studies to demonstrate what researchers already suspect: that mindfulness can boost children’s attention (which helps them to concentrate), working memory (which enables them to remember directions, among other things), and inhibitory control (which makes it easier for them to stay on task, follow rules, and have friends). It should come as no surprise that all of these skills are crucial for school success.

Some researchers even see signs that mindfulness could prevent aggressive and challenging behavior, beef up empathy and resilience, and reduce visits to the principal’s office and school suspensions as children begin to respond more mindfully to difficult situations.

Brain changing

Research in adults shows that practicing mindfulness actually changes the brain. Most notably, it thickens the brain regions responsible for learning and memory, strengthens those involved in self-control, and facilitates communication among different areas, making the brain more efficient.

It also shrinks the amygdala, a small almond-shaped structure deep within the brain that detects threats and triggers our freeze-fight-flight reaction. Although it’s supposed to alert us to danger, it can also hijack the brain and make us act before we have a chance to think. As MindUP puts it, “The amygdala is like a barking dog—he keeps us safe from external dangers but sometimes he barks for no real reason.”

Mindfulness works because of this two-pronged approach: It enhances conscious control at the same time that it dampens automatic reactions like fear and anger that can interfere with learning and rational thought.

And it is likely that the effect of mindfulness on the developing brain intensifies when it is introduced early. So far evidence indicates that children at high risk—including those experiencing poverty, trauma, or toxic stress—benefit the most.

How can kids learn mindfulness?

Children seem to enjoy mindfulness practice, and practice is just as important for children as it is for adults. Here are some basics to keep in mind:

  • Make mindfulness a special time. It’s probably a good idea to move to the carpet or another space where everyone can lie down.
  • Practice often—several times a week, every day, even several times a day. A few short practice periods spaced out over the day work better for learning than a single extended one.
  • It’s best to be consistent, so select times you can stick to, for example, after recess, after lunch, before math.
  • Keep the sessions short. One to two minutes is enough for younger children; five-year-olds can pay attention for about three minutes.
  • Use props such as stuffed animals. Kids can lie down, put their stuffies on their bellies, and rock them to sleep with their breathing or pretend they’re boats bobbing up and down on the waves of their breath. They can also do a body scan lying down or standing up with the aid of a hula hoop and the teacher’s direction.
  • Include mindfulness in ordinary activities like snack or lunch—for example, ask children to notice whether their food is hot or cold, hard or soft, bland or spicy.
  • Incorporate movement such as yoga stretches.
  • Metaphors are useful, too. Help children visualize their thoughts passing by like clouds in the sky or floats in a parade.

Bear in mind that despite the vast number of programs and apps available, most of those aimed at young children have not yet undergone rigorous scientific evaluation. There isn’t even consensus about how much training and practice teachers need!

It’s important for your program to be evidence based, so be sure to check out the research behind your choices. Don’t forget to note the age of the children the program is designed for.

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How can you recognize good research?

The most reliable research will include:

  • Publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
  • Detailed information about the program itself (number, length, and frequency of practice sessions, training of teacher, etc.).
  • Use of multiple methods and informants to assess outcomes (such as grades, office referrals, suspensions, recognized tests of children’s skills, and outside observers).
  • Random assignment of participating children to the training group or an active control group (which is preferable to a wait list control group).
  • A large number of participating children and a description of them (their age, race or ethnicity, income level, disability).
  • Corroboration by similar independent studies.
  • Follow-up data.

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What about teachers?

If you’re thinking, “I could use some mindfulness myself,” you’re probably right! Teachers work under stressful conditions, and emotional regulation is especially important when you’re facing challenging behavior.

A study of the CARE program (Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Educators), which teaches teachers mindfulness and social and emotional skills, found that it reduced stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout, while improving teachers’ empathy, relationships with their students, classroom management skills, and the learning environment.

Although there’s no consensus on the subject, having mindfulness training and your own practice will probably help you to teach mindfulness to your class.

Here are some programs to consider        

Calm Classroom.  A research-based program for preschool and kindergarten, Calm Classroom was developed by the non-profit Luster Learning Institute. It trains teachers, administrators, and support staff on site in schools and also offers individual educators online training that comes with a manual and a CD. You can try it out by clicking here.

Mindful Schools.  Mindful Schools, which was designed for kindergarten to fifth graders, offers both a six-week basic online course and a more advanced online course under the guidance of experienced mindfulness teachers. Educators can also sign up for group instruction. Examples are provided on the website.

MindUP.   Accredited by CASEL, the MindUP program grew out of the earlier Mindful Education and consists of 15 lessons for PreK to grade 8 students. It draws from neuroscience, positive psychology, mindful awareness, and social and emotional learning and offers whole-school or regional training for classroom teachers, a curriculum guide, and a digital option.

Mind Yeti.  Developed by the Committee for Children, the non-profit organization that produced the Second Step social and emotional learning program, Mind Yeti is an animated web-based program for “children and their adults” created by educators, psychologists, researchers, and mindfulness experts under the guidance of University of British Columbia psychologists. You can try it out for free through Apple iTunes.

What do you think?

We’d love to hear about your experiences with mindfulness—either your own or your students’. Has it changed the ambience of your classroom?

 


Implicit Bias Is Everyone’s Problem

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Photo by Heather Locke, Fort Campbell Courier, FMWRC, U.S. Army 100820

“Hidden Figures”—the Oscar-nominated film about three Black women mathematicians working at NASA in 1961 (that is, before the Civil Rights Act of 1964)—contains plenty of examples of explicit bias and discrimination.

But it also has a splendid illustration of implicit bias, which is far more subtle.

Toward the end of the movie, Mrs. Michael, a White manager (played by Kirsten Dunst), semi-apologizes to Dorothy Vaughan, an African American woman in NASA’s computing pool (played by Octavia Spencer), by saying, “I didn’t mean you any harm.”

Vaughan’s response outs her supervisor’s unseen prejudice: “I know. And I’m sure you believe that.”

What exactly are implicit biases, and who has them?

According to Walter S. Gilliam, the Yale psychologist who’s been studying them for years, implicit biases are automatic, unconscious stereotypes that form as a result of our upbringing, daily experiences, and media exposure and drive the way we take in information, judge situations and people, and make decisions. All of us have them—they are natural and pervasive.

Despite the fact that they shape our expectations and behavior and influence us at least as much as our explicit biases, these biases are called “implicit” because most of the time we don’t even know they’re there—just like Mrs. Michael.

Is there implicit bias in schools and child care centers?

Gilliam’s interest in implicit biases dates from his discovery in 2005 that African American children—especially boys—were being suspended and expelled from state-funded prekindergarten classes at an alarming rate, much higher than White children and children in K-12 schools.

Why are Black boys at such high risk?

These statistics made Gilliam ask, why are Black boys suspended and expelled so often? From his 2005 study, he knew some of the risk factors:

  • Children of color often live with more stressors than White children.
  • They frequently attend poor-quality child care programs.
  • Because of their difficult lives, their families probably need more child care than most families, and as a result their children’s daycare day is very long.
  • Four-year-olds are more likely to be expelled than three-year-olds, perhaps because they’re bigger and teachers fear they’ll harm the other children.
  • Teachers who are depressed or experiencing job stress are more apt to suspend and expel the children in their care.

But Gilliam also suspected that an implicit bias lay at the root of these findings, and he set up an experiment to find out.

Gilliam’s study

Gilliam recruited 135 early childhood educators and told them he was studying how teachers detect challenging behavior, sometimes even before it appears. Then, using sophisticated eye-tracking equipment, he showed them a video of four preschoolers—an African American boy, an African American girl, a White boy, and a White girl.

The result? Even though the children were actors and the video contained no challenging behavior, the teachers spent more time watching the African American boy, who they said required the most attention. That is, they expected him to misbehave because of his race.

In the second part of the experiment, Gilliam asked the teachers to rate the behavior of a child in a written vignette. He manipulated the child’s race and sex by using different names—DeShawn or Jake; Latoya or Emily. The ratings suggested that both Black and White teachers had a stereotyped belief—that is, an implicit bias—that Black children are more liable to misbehave.

Some participants also received a description of the child’s family life, and their own race seemed to guide their reaction to it: If teacher and child were of the same race, the teacher could empathize with the child and the behavior seemed less severe. On the other hand, when they were of different races, the teacher considered the child’s behavior harder to deal with.

Researchers hypothesize that Black teachers are better able to understand Black children’s lives and culture and use that knowledge to respond to their needs.

What can we do about this?

Children with challenging behavior who are harshly disciplined and suspended and expelled from prekindergarten, preschools, and child care centers are missing out on a vital opportunity to prepare for—and succeed in—school. Luckily there is now some evidence that reducing our implicit biases and increasing our empathy can give them a much better start.

Of course this is easier if we have the support and guidance of early childhood mental health consultants, professional development, or crisis counselling, but too few teachers have access to such help.

So most of us are largely on our own. We have to hold ourselves accountable and rely on what we and our colleagues can do together. As Carol Brunson Day put it at the last NAEYC conference, “We must all work continuously to insure unintended consequences don’t come from our behavior.”

Here are some suggestions

  • The key is to know yourself, and self-reflection is our number one tool. There is no shame in having biases—everyone has them—but before we can change them we have to admit that they exist. This takes courage, but if we stick with it and fight the urge to run away or hide, we will make progress.  We could help one another by pointing out an action or a response that seems due to bias—or by observing a colleague who has a particularly easy relationship with an African American boy.
  • How else can you discover your own implicit biases? Take the Implicit Bias Test.
  • It’s extremely important to build strong relationships with all the children we teach and use every interaction to show how much we care about them and believe in their ability to succeed. Little things mean a lot, for example, saying their names correctly. Mispronouncing or changing a child’s name insults the child, the family, and their culture and can have a lasting effect on a child’s self-image and world view.
  • Get to know the children’s families and learn about their lives and culture, paying special attention to those whose beliefs and experiences are different from yours. Head Start has shown us that family involvement and home-school collaboration improve children’s behavior at school. Home visits open doors, both literally and figuratively.
  • Make a point of connecting with people who are different from you. This can be hard because many of our neighborhoods are segregated, so use your ingenuity. Invite guest speakers into your classroom, attend a service at an unfamiliar church, or follow the example of Justin Minkel, 2007 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, and arrange a meet-up for families in a park or playground.

All of this enables us to challenge our stereotypes. Arizona teacher Cheryl A. Redfield put it this way: “We tend to characterize a whole people group from a few encounters. We don’t challenge our conclusions. So rethink, reflect, and resolve not to succumb to the convenience of overgeneralization, especially when it comes to people. They can surprise you.”

Whenever they do surprise you, your horizons expand, your empathy and compassion grow, and your biases lose some of their power.

Over to you

Have you had any experience dealing with implicit biases, either your own or others’? How did you become aware of them, and did you have any success in changing them?

 


Dearest Families: Responding to the Election Results

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Photo by Silvio Assuncao/Flickr

For many of us, the results of the Presidential election and the president-elect’s recent appointments are a surprise that has brought some concerns regarding the future direction of the United States. Some people are fearful of deportation, others are afraid of anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice. In addition there are concerns about the rights of women and the LGBTQ community.

Many early childhood educators are spending time explaining these developments to the children in their care. Administrators set the tone and are responsible for ensuring that all children feel safe. We are proud to post a letter to families by the director of early childhood education at a program in Los Angeles.

If your preschool or center has written a useful letter or done something else to help families cope with election fallout, please send it to us. We would be pleased to post a selection of letters on our blog.

Dearest Families

Now, in the clear light of day, we see an outcome we did not expect. Suddenly, we are uneasy with our countrymen and women—how can we be so far apart? How can basic decency not be valued? How can such cruelty prevail? Despite everything we teach them, does bullying win? Is it OK to make fun of people who look different than we do?

Even as we struggle to find ground on which to stand, we must be mindful of our very young children. You may not realize your children are being affected by all this but they are. First by what they see: Your sadness, anger, worry. It is okay for you to say how you feel, to cry and be sad. If we don’t let children know it’s okay to feel sad and scared, they may think something is wrong with them when they feel that way.

They certainly don’t need to hear all the details of what’s making us sad or scared, but we can help them accept that when bad or scary things happen, it’s OK to have feelings about it. It also models for them how to express feelings. Try, however, to be as in control as possible. Keep their routines as consistent and regular as you can. This is the way that children feel safe.

Second, children are affected by what they hear: from you, the TV and other screens, from their friends. So, it is always good to ask, “What have you heard about this election?” Sometimes things said are understood in ways that frighten or confuse them. You can share that we live in a country where people are allowed to say what they want and sometimes people say mean and hurtful things, but it is also a country that has rules and laws. That we will always fight for fairness and kindness. We will stand with our friends who have different skin color, different religion, whose families look different than ours.

Remember that your words, said in moments of despair or anger, will also be heard. Try to keep the catastrophic pronouncements away from them. Finally, turn off the TV.

As our children know, at Yom Kippur, we were given the chance to do better, be kinder, be forgiven for the things we have said and done. So, we will give the new President a chance to do better, and be kinder, too.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.”—Fred Rogers

 

 

 


Election Stress Disorder in Young Children

30315818186_09966a7402_zIn a recent speech, Michelle Obama raised the question that’s on the mind of every teacher and parent right now: “What do you think this is doing to our children?”

She was of course talking about the Presidential campaign and Donald Trump’s abuse of women, mocking of the disabled, and threats to ban Muslims and send Mexicans back to

Photo by Jacob Evans

Mexico that the media have covered every day.

Even young children are aware of the hatred, threats, name-calling, and inflammatory tone in the air.

In the First Lady’s words, “This is not normal . . . and it is not okay.” She might have added, “And there are consequences such as increased challenging behavior in children of all ages, including preschoolers.”

Rampant fear

Back in April, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that two-thirds of the 2,000 K-12 teachers it had surveyed were seeing an “alarming level of fear and anxiety” among children of color.

After hearing that Trump would deport millions of Latino immigrants, build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and ban Muslim immigrants altogether, these children—immigrants, children of immigrants, and Muslims—were worrying about what might happen to them or their families if Trump became President.

They worried about being deported, jailed, or attacked by police; about losing their homes and places of worship; about being rounded up and put into detention camps. Even African American students were worrying that they’d be sent back to Africa or that slavery would be resurrected.

Although many of these children were carrying their birth certificates and social security cards to protect themselves, they still cried in class, couldn’t sleep, and had panic attacks. They believed they didn’t belong here and that everyone hated them.

Almost one-third of children in American classrooms have foreign-born parents.

Rise in bullying 

Some children had a different reaction: They saw Trump as a role model, and they appropriated his ideas, tone, and language. More than half the teachers in the survey reported that bullying, harassment, and intimidation were on the upswing and becoming more violent and racist.

Children were expressing more hatred for more people—immigrants, refugees, minorities, poor, people with disabilities, people who are overweight—and were “emboldened” to name-call and to use slurs, insults, and trash talk with each other. Muslim children were being called terrorist, ISIS, and bomber, and one teacher heard a fifth grader tell his classmate that Trump was going to kill all Muslims.

Discussions were quickly deteriorating into shouting matches and fights, and years of bullying-prevention work had gone out the window.

“There’s a sense that if someone doesn’t agree with you, it’s acceptable (even encouraged) to have hatred and anger towards them,” commented one teacher in the survey.

Remember that all of this was reported in April. It is surely much worse now.

What’s a teacher to do?

The young children you see everyday probably don’t know about or understand what we’ve just described, but it is certain that they sense the fear and anxiety that’s all around them.

Maslow tells us that what children most need is to feel safe. Creating a safe place and protecting them are probably your goals as well, because you know that children depend on you to comfort and reassure them.

But if you’re also riddled with fear and anxiety, you may not feel very safe yourself—a state of affairs that will be quite obvious to the children in your classroom.

What can you do?

First of all, remember that you’re not alone. More than half of American adults are feeling stressed by this election, no matter which party they favor, according to the American Psychological Association. (Your condition even has a name: Election Stress Disorder.)

Next, turn your attention to yourself. As they tell us on airplanes, you must put on your own mask before helping others.

Donald Trump has shown us how powerful role models can be, especially for boys, so the best thing you can do is become a calm and positive role model, in control of your own emotions.

Here are some tips:

  • Turn off the television and radio when children are nearby and limit your own use of all media.
  • Tell people who might escalate conflict that you’d rather not talk about the election.
  • Remember to breathe.
  • Be aware of all your personal strengths and abilities, and have confidence in them—you can handle this.
  • Keep a journal and record your thoughts and feelings.
  • If you work with other people, laugh together; support and compliment each other. If you work alone, seek out your peers. Everyone needs someone to talk to.
  • Develop positive self-talk.
  • Cultivate optimism and gratitude.
  • Avoid blame.
  • It can clear your head.
  • Make time to do what you enjoy. Go for a walk; spend time with friends and family.
  • Be sure to vote.

What about the children?

Once you’ve calmed down, it’s time to help the children.

The psychodramatic play area is where they often express their fears and concerns and try to understand the adult world around them. Look out for signs of anxiety such as subtle changes in behavior—a child who normally enjoys the company of her peers is sitting by herself; another may be pacing or just wandering around the room. Some children may be twirling their hair, swinging their feet, or regressing from cup to bottle, or from being toilet trained to having accidents.

Give the children as many opportunities as you can to tell you what they’re worried about. Listen carefully, validate their feelings, and respond before their behavior escalates. Provide them with reassurance and a sense of safety. They may need two minutes of one-on-one time, even a hug. This is when your effort to create a culture of caring in your classroom will pay off.

Talk with the families and encourage them to turn off the news and avoid talking about their concerns when their children are present. At the same time, let them know how important it is to listen and support their children if they’re showing signs of anxiety at home or their behavior changes. Saying “There’s nothing to worry about” when they can see that their parents are upset only intensifies children’s stress.

What do you think?

Have you seen more fear, anxiety, and hurtful or challenging behavior in your classroom in the past few months? Do you think it’s linked to the election? Have parents raised this issue with you?