Ottawa company Compassion Connected helps schools to help kids
When we think of childhood trauma, we tend to think of overwhelmingly frightening events in a child’s life. We are often told that kids are resilient and “get over” things quickly. The reality is that trauma affects children differently because of their developing brains and can have lifelong implications, including health risks and early death. Kids do not heal quickly or in isolation and the pain they feel often comes out as behaviours. This is something that classroom teachers need to be aware of because connecting with these kids can help every child in the classroom.
Professionals refer to traumatic events in a child’s life as ACE’s, or adverse childhood experiences. They include, but are not limited to the death of a parent, separation from a parent, emotional/physical/sexual abuse, neglect, poverty, bullying, incarceration of a parent, divorce, adoption, being in and out of foster homes, violence in the home and substance abuse in the home. The number of kids who have two or more ACE’s is estimated to be around 20 percent. That means anywhere from five to eight children in a class have at least two or more ACE’s. As a result of the trauma, these children have a more developed brain stem, and show less development in the prefrontal cortex. This means that they are more likely to be in fight/flight/freeze and less likely to be in their “thinking” brain. They are reactive because they are on high alert at all times. Think about the child in the class that has tantrums and yells and hits and is seen as being defiant and oppositional. If you looked into his background, what would you find? How many ACE’s would that child have? His behaviour is reflecting his pain and inability to regulate. We need a paradigm shift, not only in our classrooms, but in our communities. We need to stop asking what is wrong with this child, and start asking, ‘what happened to this child?’
There are solutions, and it turns out one of the biggest differences comes about as a result of compassion and connection. Teachers are in a unique position to truly connect with students. Studies show that few relationships outside of the home are as powerful. An example of this was seen three years ago at MindWare Academy, a small school in Ottawa when they made the decision to become a trauma-informed school. The impact has been life-changing for staff and students. This led the school’s director, Shelley Holloway, to make the shift to begin helping other teachers make changes in their classrooms. The company, Compassion Connected, was born from this. Ms. Holloway speaks to school teams, community organizations, and parent groups on how to bring regulation and connection to our most vulnerable children and in doing so, change the culture of schools. Her team is offering workshops to help both teachers and parents understand the impact of trauma.
For more information on any of the programs, please visit the websites: