Helping students who have experienced a crisis or disaster
DISASTERS and crisis happen every day in our lives and in our communities. When these happen, there are upsetting to everyone involved regardless of age and colour.
Disasters come in different forms, shapes and sizes. In Zimbabwe, there are natural disasters such as fires, floods and lightning which can traumatise the people affected.
Students are not spared. They encounter trauma either through personal experience or indirect knowledge of disasters that have occurred in their lives and communities. Some students experience violence and death related to rape, vehicle accidents, drowning, fire burns,suicide of friends and relatives, community violence and even kidnapping. Other situations that can be traumatic to students include the death of a family member, classmate, or teacher, and violent events at school and in community.
Just like adults, students react differently with emotional responses such as fear, grief, acute stress and post-traumatic stress syndrome. I have seen that traumatic experiences and other events can threaten students’ sense of worth and well-being. This can lead to low self-esteem and intense personal turmoil that may lead students to think about hurting themselves or others. Students; learning process may be affected negatively. Teachers and other school officials play a critical role in identifying and providing support for those most distressed.
There are some hints that can be adopted by schools and teachers to protect student survivors from further physical or psychological harm in times of crisis or emergency. Most significantly, remember that school children of different ages react in different ways to trauma.
Three most important things teachers, parents and caregivers can do are: listening and paying attention, protecting and connecting.
1. Help your student know that they are not alone in their reactions.
2. Watch out for common reactions of negative impact of trauma such as trouble sleeping, problems at school and with friends, trouble concentrating and listening, and not finishing work assignments.
3. Help students find appropriate and constructive outlets for emotions.
4. Give your students opportunities to talk, draw, and play, but don’t force it. (Professional mental health workers can help with this).
5. It is important to talk to your students about what is being done by the family, school and community to keep everyone safe from harm.
6. Be sensitive to anything in the environment that can re-traumatise students.
7. Maintain your daily routines, activities and structure with clear expectations and limit unnecessary changes
8. Be sensitive to students’ current level of functioning and help them seek help as soon as possible.
9. Check in” with students on a regular basis.
10. Encourage your students to identify and use positive coping strategies to help them after the event
11. Remind students that with time and assistance, things will generally get better. EXPECT RECOVERY. Please remember in any case of crisis, early and focused intervention can reduce suffering emotional distress and prevent future psychological problems. Seek help early.
◆ Dr Mazvita Machinga is a qualified psychotherapist and mental health consultant who can be contacted at 0778 83 84 10 / 0771 754 519; email mmazvi@ yahoo.com