How educators can help children recover and thrive
The Sector > Quality > Professional development > How educators can help children recover and thrive

How educators can help children recover and thrive

by Brad Morgan, Emerging Minds

April 07, 2022

When a natural disaster occurs, children will look to the trusted adults in their lives – their family and their educators – to feel safe and reassured, and for guidance on how to respond.


That’s why, in the aftermath of the devastating floods in Queensland and New South Wales, early childhood educators, schoolteachers and support staff are vital in supporting children to pull through.


This can be a confusing, difficult and overwhelming time for everyone in the community. If you have children of your own, you may find yourself feeling torn between your responsibilities as an educator and as a parent. 


The principles of psychological first aid (PFA) can help you to navigate these competing priorities and take care of your own mental health, as well as the psychological wellbeing of the children in your care. Psychological first aid gives you the tools to support someone mentally and emotionally as soon as they need it. It’s used in the same way as physical first aid – as a way to assess and protect people who are in an emergency – and can help to keep people stable until professional support is available.


Just like physical first aid, it’s important to make sure you’re psychologically safe and able to provide support before administering PFA. If you, as an adult, need someone to talk to, you may be able to access support through your centre or school’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP); or you can call Lifeline’s 24-hour hotline on 13 11 14.


The five steps of psychological first aid


Psychological first aid is made up of five steps:


  1. Ensure safety: Remove the child from the threat of harm, or reduce their exposure to it where possible.


  1. Keep calm: Provide a calm environment, away from stressful situations or where the child can easily see, hear or smell aspects of the disaster. When you speak, use a calm, low tone of voice to reassure children. Manage your own stress about the event away from children.


  1. Connect with others: Keep families together and keep children with parents or other close relatives wherever possible. When children are in your care away from their family, regularly reassure them that their loved ones will return. Encourage them to look at photos of their family. Siblings may want to be with each other, with older children feeling compelled to take care of their younger siblings.


  1. Encourage-self efficacy: Help children to identify their strengths and their abilities to cope. Remind them of all the ways they’re safe and how they keep themselves safe.


  1. Have hope: Reassure the child that everything they’re feeling is normal but that they will be ok.


Above all, remember that a child’s most overwhelming need following a disaster will be to feel safe. Children will feel safe being around people they know and trust, who can reassure them, help them to understand what has happened (in an age-appropriate way), and who can provide them with hope for the future.


Resources to support children and families


You may wish to provide resources to families at your school or centre, and in the wider community. Emerging Minds’ Community Trauma Toolkit includes resources tailored for teachers and childcare professionals, designed to equip them with the knowledge and skills required to promote resilience and decrease the chances of long-term adverse impacts following events like the floods.Like all of Emerging Minds’ resources, the toolkit is FREE to access.


The immediate aftermath of a disaster can be overwhelming for all members of a community. But focusing on these fundamental ideas can provide you and the children in your care with much needed focus and direction.


Stay safe, look out for yourselves and each other, and thank you for doing all you can to support the physical and psychological recovery of your community. Your efforts can help children feel safe, develop resiliency, recover from adversity and go on to thrive.

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