Expert warns children may bring more trauma into the classroom after pandemic
Kevin Cameron suggests parents have open conversations with their children and teachers reach out early
Teachers and educators should be preparing for youth with more trauma than usual after the pandemic, an expert warns.
Kevin Cameron has worked with schools that have been through devastating school shootings and loss. Now the trauma expert is working with Saskatchewan educators to get them to think about how COVID-19 has impacted kids.
Cameron is the executive director of the North American Centre for Threat Assessment and Trauma Response. He is speaking at The Saskatchewan Principals' Short Course from July 6 to 9.
"This has been an ongoing trauma overlay, with the civil unrest also which has left a lot of kids kind of feeling like the world is tilting on its axis," Cameron told The Morning Edition.
Even online school helped at the time when quarantine started, Cameron said. He said it gave them a distance opportunity from family dynamics that can be unhealthy or dangerous.
"Kids and parents and caregivers have really been stuck together especially during those first three months," Cameron said.
"We had a lot of kids who were exposed to some things that many people weren't anticipating, including — because of heightened anxiety — witnessing domestic violence, some for the first time. They're seeing it repeat it for the first time in a long time."
Youth are also emotionally distant from peers and people at schools who can be primary emotional support systems. Parental emotions or concerns can also have an effect on children, Cameron said.
"If the parents are really fearful of getting the virus for instance and struggling with a possible trickle down to the kids — and not just our elementary kids but many of our high school kids as well — have really absorbed a lot of that family's anxiety," he said.
Some kids may not come back exactly the same as what they were when they left us in March. - Kevin Cameron
"There are some kids of course who have done okay, but there's been a tremendous weight on our kids from a worldwide pandemic and seeing how the adults have responded to it. And the civil unrest, without a doubt, has generated a whole different layer of concern about where this world is going," Cameron said.
Cameron said it's important teachers and educators recognize the stresses and be prepared to support students.
"Some kids may not come back exactly the same as what they were when they left us in March," Cameron said. "We need to be mindful of that and we can take some steps in advance by the way to address this."
WATCH: CBC Saskatchewan's Christy Climenhaga spoke with Kevin Cameron
One step educators can take is to spend the week before school starts reaching out to students to get an idea of how they are doing, he said. As well, it's important to reach out to students long before a mental health situation becomes too much, he said.
"Reach out to them so that we're not inheriting a bunch of symptoms on day number one in school," he said.
The trauma from the pandemic is not like other events Cameron has dealt with, he said. Usually a traumatic event is one incident — whereas the pandemic was a long, sustained amount of angst.
"This is the most protracted traumatic circumstance that kids and adults actually have been exposed to since the wartimes," Cameron said. "Which most of us weren't around for and certainly our kids weren't — It is this sustained level of angst."
I'm telling you the power of a meaningful conversation resolves a lot of issues. - Kevin Cameron
Families can do their part to get children prepared for the fall school semester by having meaningful conversations, Cameron said.
"Not just one, but create context," he said. "Ask them how are they doing? What's their experience like? What did they think of going back to school?"
"So if there's kids who are struggling, they can get that support, if it needs to be outside of the home as a trained friend a therapist," Cameron said. "I'm telling you the power of a meaningful conversation resolves a lot of issues."