There is no denying the academic and emotional impact of the pandemic on children. News websites and TV newscasts are full of stories about the unknown long-term effects of the past two years on kids.
In recent months, education-related news outlets have been covering the issue of social-emotional learning, or SEL, with stories in Education Week, Chalkbeat, and The Hechinger Report highlighting different aspects of the issue.
Our youngest learners arguably could be the ones affected the most by the trauma of the pandemic. Over the summer, the National Association for the Education of Young Children surveyed 7,500 early childcare providers and found that four out of five respondents said they had a staffing shortage. More than one in every three respondents said they considered leaving or shutting down their child care programs. This does not even consider centers that now have to close temporarily for COVID outbreaks. This creates inconsistent care for young children and an insurmountable amount of stress for families.
I talk with educators and childcare center owners on a daily basis, and they are being stretched thin and challenged in ways no one could have expected. NPR recently reported on “parents and caregivers of young kids who say they’ve hit pandemic rock bottom.” While we continue to hope this is all behind us, we need to be prepared for the longer term.
We know that life can be filled with stress, change, loss, and pain, especially right now. The educators that earn the Council’s Child Development Associate® (CDA) credential understand how to help children learn resiliency. CDAs are taught about The Devereux Center for Resilient Children’s approach to defending against the harmful effects of trauma and stress, including:
- Attachment and relationships: ability to foster and engage in positive connections with family members and early childhood educators.
- Initiative: ability to assert control and power over the environment by planning activities, accomplishing tasks, and facing challenges.
- Self-regulation: ability to express and manage emotions and behavior in healthy ways.
Helping young children express their feelings is an important part of their emotional development. For example, toddlers need lots of patience and understanding as they gain the language needed to express themselves in words. The Council recommends reading books aloud to children and discussing the characters and themes. Educators can ask questions that draw attention to the problem and how the character(s) solved it. The questions will vary depending on the plot, but consider:
- What happened to __________ in the story?
- How do you think this made __________ feel?
- What would you have suggested __________ do?
Some books to use for this approach include:
- Hair Love by Matthew A Cherry
- Dancing with Katya by Dori Chaconas
- Grawnma Becky’s Bread by Mark R. Ellsworth
- The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper and George Hauman
An additional valuable resource has been published by our partners, the Office of Head Start. The Head Start Heals Podcast campaign increases awareness about how Head Start and Early Head Start programs are uniquely qualified to address trauma and promote resilience in young children and families. This podcast series covers a variety of relevant topics to provide Head Start staff with information, strategies, and resources to support children and families during difficult times. Learn how to communicate about race, coping with grief and loss, mental health planning for disaster and trauma, and equity.
The Council continues to look for ways to support educators as we navigate the new normal. We are in the process of updating our publication, “Essentials for Working with Young Children,” and while the pandemic has changed many things, we believe that the more than 800,000 educators who have earned the credential are well-equipped to understand how to help young children at this critical time.