Trauma expert says kids can feed off adults' back-to-school jitters
Crisis counsellor also notes parents need support during this unusual process
As students across New Brunswick prepare for a return to the classroom on Sept. 8, crisis counsellor and trauma expert Kevin Cameron says he has advice for parents, teachers and staff -- the start to school is only going to be good if adults are ready for it.
"If we adults are comfortable enough with the measures being taken to manage the virus and we're comfortable enough as well emotionally to come back into this setting, the kids will feel that off of us," he said.
But if adults are anxious and not supported, students will feel it and the return to school could be far more complex.
Cameron, the executive director of the North American Centre for Threat Assessment and Trauma Response, is currently providing advice to New Brunswick's department of education and school districts on preparing for the return to school.
Speaking by Zoom with Harry Forestell of CBC New Brunswick News on Friday, he said teachers are being advised to watch students for signs of trauma related to COVID-19. While most assume a child may have been traumatized by the fear and anxiety surrounding the pandemic, it is really the quarantine period behind closed doors that is the most damaging source of trauma for children returning to school.
"Some kids traumatic exposure because of the pandemic isn't about the virus, its about what's happened within the walls of their own homes," said Cameron.
"In a school setting we have told teachers they should really consider their students pre-covid function. How were they before quarantining occurred."
Cameron said if students are coming back with dramatic changes in their thinking, behaviour, emotional state and aggressiveness in the thoughts they are writing and drawing then that's a trigger.
"That's what we call worrisome behaviour that says, 'You know what? Maybe we should reach out to the parents and ask just what was their experience like.'"
Adult generated fear
Cameron added children's fear of going back to school is adult generated.
"Meaning because of watching media, watching their parents and caregivers who are exceedingly fearful, some of those kids will bear the symptoms and have trauma like symptoms because of it."
Cameron said they have a tool that staff and parents can use called the coronavirus impact scale that allows them to determine just how much COVID-19 has impacted them.
"Most people if they don't know someone who had COVID-19 or passed away they are thinking the pandemic didn't impact them but we have had an economy shut down, we have had job losses and we have had an increase in intensity inside of family relations."
Cameron said if some of those staff have come from those difficult circumstances then it is a concern.
"We are concerned about the adults and the kids and an open conversation can do a lot to heal that."
Cameron said addressing this now rather than later will be beneficial for all in the long run and make the re-entry to a new school year go much smoother.
"Support them, give them an ear now so that when we walk through the doors of the school in September, anxieties can be lowered, there could be some level of preparation."
With files from Harry Forestell