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How the Five Essential Elements of Trauma Intervention can guide practice during COVID-19.

Updated: Jun 29, 2021

With schools in Scotland having already returned, schools in Northern Ireland reopening this week and schools in England and Wales rapidly approaching the new school year, it is vital that school staff feel comfortable and confident in their approach to supporting their pupils and students in light of the coronavirus pandemic. For many young people, they will not have been in school since the middle of March and it is likely that some will have had extremely limited contact with people outside of their home in all that time. By structuring support around the Five Essential Elements of Trauma Intervention, it is hoped that school staff can respond to their own needs, as well as that of their students, in a trauma-responsive way.

1) Promoting relational safety

Promoting relational safety is the anchor to providing a trauma-informed response. As humans, we are instinctively social. This means that not only do we gain comfort and enjoyment from others, but we also use the signals that those around us provide in order to assess a situation, to determine if we feel safe and to act in accordance to those messages. For our young people, this means that if they are surrounded by staff who are stressed and anxious, they will pick up on these messages of fear and will also feel stressed and anxious, regardless of the verbal messages you might be trying to give them.

Breathing is likely to help towards promoting relational safety. Noticing changes in the breath can be a great way of recognising when you’re moving away from feeling safe and social as it’s a physiological response that we do not consciously control. However, it is the only response that we can choose to control. This means that when we notice our breathing getting shorter and more constricted, we can make a conscious effort to take long, deep breaths from the diaphragm. For most people, this can help move us back towards that feeling of safety. Done alongside your pupils, this is a strategy that can support both you and the children and young people who are looking to you for cues of safety.

2) Promoting calm

To feel calm, we need to be giving our bodies clear, consistent messages about what is happening and what can be done to keep us safe. In the current climate, this isn’t always possible. The messages we are getting can change rapidly and this can lead to conflicting or confusing information. For children, setting up an opportunity to seek clarification is really important. You might want to introduce a ‘communication box’ in your classroom, where children can write any questions or concerns they have that you can then discuss with them in a calm, safe space.

As adults, we can also change our narrative to promote that sense of calm. We can tell ourselves and others “I can feel safe, even if”. This means that even though there are genuine threats to our safety right now, there are also things we can be doing to minimise those threats. That might be promoting good personal hygiene (check out our hand washing song for further inspiration), keeping over a metre apart and wearing masks when we go out.

3) Promoting self-efficacy

Self-efficacy is the perception and ability to know that you can do something in order to move towards a desired outcome. This has been difficult during the pandemic as there will have been moments where we’ve felt powerless in the face of the coronavirus. It is true that there are a number of things we are unable to control in relation to COVID-19. However, thinking back to relational safety and the conscious decision we can make to control our breathing, this is one way of reminding ourselves and our students that there are still things we can be doing to support ourselves during the pandemic – we aren’t completely powerless. Using movement to support children back into the safe and social state can also be really effective (for example, bouncing on a trampoline, running around the playground or using fidget toys).

4) Promoting reasonable hope

Hope is often thought of as an individual quality, but here, we’d like to think of hope as a collective practice – something that we do with one another. Promoting reasonable hope might be thinking about a time when this will all be over and what we might do that’s different to the current situation. Whilst doing this occasionally can bring hope, thinking like this all the time can make us feel depleted so it’s important to not dwell on the things we’re missing, but also to savour those things that we used to enjoy.

As a class, you could also practice hope by sharing some of the positive things that have happened during the pandemic. It might be a new skill that a pupil has learnt, the opportunity to spend more time with family or getting a super long summer holiday (despite the rain!).

5) Promoting community connectedness

Whilst we’ve had to physically distance, the message has been loud and clear – we’re all in this together and it is through supporting each other and igniting that community spirit that we’ll see the best outcomes. It’s been wonderful to see all the creative ways schools have been bringing their communities back together, from online quizzes to drawings rigged up around the school fences. Now is a brilliant time to focus on developing community connectedness within our young people though co-operative games. Check out our latest COVID infographic for rules on how to play ‘Draw What You Hear’.

These are just a few ideas of how to take the Five Essential Elements of Trauma Intervention and implement them within your schools. If you’d like more information on this topic, please visit our 'on demand' learning courses (coming soon) where you can access over 6 hours of self-guided training structured around the Five Essential Elements of Trauma Intervention.

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