The right response?
As abnormal becomes our new normal, many people have missed memorable experiences that will never be recovered. Whilst the severity of the impact of the coronavirus will differ from person to person, it is important to ask: how do we respond to adults and children alike in this situation?
In recent weeks, we have had bereavements in this nation. There are events that have not been and will never be experienced. The first Mother’s Day as three or four generations of women gather together. Visiting a new-born baby in hospital. Walking down the aisle surrounded by family and friends. Saying goodbye at a funeral. In the light of the pandemic, it is understandable why these experiences have been missed but postponement is not an option. They have been lost.
These bereavements are present in the world of education. Children have been deprived their last day at nursery or school. Parents and carers have missed the first sports day for their children. Secondary school students have not sat their first or last exam. Trainee teachers have not completed their placements. Final days through retirement or parental leave have been missed. There have been sudden or lost goodbyes to peers and teachers. The familiar places have been removed. The various identities we take in different situations and locations have been reduced to the single ‘home’ persona.
As we adjust, we are not adjusting to a new normal but a new abnormal. We hope that many aspects of life will return to the status quo. But we are not there yet, and we may live in this uncertainty for some time yet. We also need to grieve. We have had a trauma. Mourning is unpredictable and painful; it comes at different times, with different triggers. The sudden change of routine, socialising, play, and learning is a hard adjustment for adults; this is also true for children.
There are suggestions aplenty for both adults and children. Should we home-school? How many hours of television is ok? Should work be marked? How do you balance work and childcare? How do you create boundaries between work and home when the lines have now merged? There is no ‘right’ response. Each family, colleague, or child is different. Some may feel less affected by the changes and may even find some enjoyment in the difference.
However, those people who have experienced loss need support. Trauma induced behaviours need an appropriate response. Foster carers and adoptive parents are often encouraged to use the Dan Hughes’ model of PACE: “Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy” (Hughes, Golding and Hudson, 2019). Carers and parents are helped to use each component to varying degrees, and in different combinations depending on the individual child and situation. Current events surrounding the coronavirus clearly differ to the trauma that looked after children have experienced; nevertheless, PACE may offer some support for us all.
When considering our children, we need to allow them to take the lead, and accept that their emotional responses are not personal. Children may need ‘downtime’ on the TV or in the garden if that is an option. Time could be spent wondering with the children about their feelings, asking them to consider their physical responses and mental wellbeing. There needs to be acknowledgement of the sadness and anger at the losses they have experienced. These responses translate to our interactions with adults: our peers, our colleagues, our family, and our friends.
The national situation has raised two questions for me. Firstly, how do we respond to children and adults now? We have all experienced some trauma and loss in this situation. We are trying to introduce normality to this abnormality, and yet we may feel- and even- be less productive in every area of our life. Golding says that PACE “provides a framework… that increases feelings of trust and safety.” (Golding, 2019, p403). This attitude is vital as we connect with colleagues and friends at this time; we need to be “understood and validated” (Golding, 2019, p403), and so do those that we work with and that we spend time with.
Secondly, how will we respond to traumatised children now we have a greater understanding of life being changed so significantly and so suddenly? For many of us, we have some stability- we are with people we love and care about, we are in our homes, we can communicate virtually. For traumatised children moved into care, there is no stability and no normal; whilst vital for their safety and wellbeing, their lives have been changed significantly and suddenly. Perhaps the ‘Empathy’ of PACE will help us to support these vulnerable children as our lives continue in our abnormality and hopeful normality.
Hughes, D., Golding, K. and Hudson, J. (2015) Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP): the development of the theory, practice and research base. Adoption & Fostering 39(4) pp.356–365
Golding, K. (2019) The development of DDP-informed parenting groups for parents and carers of children looked after or adopted from care. Adoption & Fostering, 43(4) pp.400–412
Esther is a Lecturer in Education, drawing on her experience as a class teacher and senior leader in primary schools across the country. She believes in the power of education and uses this belief to underpin her teaching and research.