Thursday, August 29, 2019

Trauma and the Brain

This is an interesting article I came across today called the Bear in the Classroom - Trauma Informed Children. 

I have been increasingly interested in the role of trauma on the brain specially in the early years as I look back over the past 30 years as an education and ask myself 'what has change in the early years to see such a paradigm shift in the mental health diagnosis's in children SO YOUNG ... when I was a new grad in a childcare centre of 100 children it was rare to have ONE child enrolled that presented with special needs of any kind. Today when you talk to educators over 2/3 of the children will present with special needs and of those a 1/3 will have some sort of diagnosis and the others will just be labelled as 'challenging behaviours'. So why are so many children today that labelled as autistic or ADHD or OCD and the list goes on and on of things that were virtually unheard of in the children we served back in the 80's and early 90's? What has changed? 

The more I read about childhood traumas and the impact on the brain the more I realize that a lot of behaviors we label as challenging or attribute to Autism spectrum or ADHD or defiance disorder is actually more likely if we delved more deeply into the behavior and life experience of the child linked back to trauma and a brain that lives in a constant state of fight flight or freeze because it sees a 'bear' in the room at every turn that is out to get them.

From another website I had been reading they stated the most common causes of childhood trauma include:
  • Accidents
  • Bullying/cyberbullying
  • Chaos or dysfunction in the house (such as domestic violence, parent with a mental illness, substance abuse or incarcerated)
  • Death of a loved one
  • Emotional abuse or neglect
  • Physical abuse or neglect
  • Separation from a parent or caregiver
  • Sexual abuse
  • Stress caused by poverty
  • Sudden and/or serious medical condition
  • Violence (at home, at school, or in the surrounding community)
  • War/terrorism
Reading the list of potential causes of trauma to the brain it totally makes sense to me how children today can be experiencing so much more 'mental health challenges than ever before when I look back on the average childhood of children from my generation compared to what the average childhood looks like today. 

Society in general has an up close and personal relationship with billions of people via social media! We get the news and stories and images of war and terrorism and fear and violence at every turn. 
Behaviors you might see from someone whose had a trauma overlap so many of the behaviors we attribute to things like ADHD and OCD and Autism spectrum:
  • Trouble forming relationships with teachers or peers
  • Poor self-regulation
  • Negative thinking
  • Hyper-vigilance
  • Executive function issues
As an educator I totally want to learn more on how to better delve deeper into children's backgrounds and experiences outside the program to find the root of behaviors and to remember that  no good will come from trying to punish a child for a behavior born of survival. You are literally punishing an adaptation to extreme stress. All behavior is born of an unmet need and our role as educators is to investigate and determine what that need is so that we can than provide children with the tools and resources to advocate meeting that need. This is how we overcome those 'challenging behaviors' in our programs by helping children learn how to thrive ...
Here’s suggestions from the article on how you can help keep the bear out of your room –
  • Teach to the emotional age, not the chronological age. Meet the student where they are at in that moment in time.
  • Consider all extreme behavior within the context of survival to better understand ‘why he keeps doing that?’
  • Repetition and routine is important because with every positive experience the impact on the brain grows.
  • Traumatized children expect the worst and focus on the negative.  If you understand this, you will be better prepared for it.
  • Childhood neglect is the most damaging trauma.  The child must not have basic needs threatened in any way or survival will be all they think about.
  • At the point the child was abused, the brain was focused on survival not learning.  The development the child missed due to abuse will need extra attention.
  • Traumatized children will often score lower on IQ tests than their true ability.  Retest when their environment is helping them heal and watch the scores go up.
  • The goal in healing trauma is when the child becomes agitated to help them learn skills to reduce the agitation.  This repeated cycle is what most helps the child.
  • Promote play with traumatized children.  Play is very healing to the brain and the emotions.
  • Don’t give up hope!  The human brain is capable of healing in ways we do not yet understand.  It may be a long road to healing and the child may not get there while still in your classroom, but every situation makes a difference. (excerpts from Traumatic Experience and the Brain, A Handbook for Understanding and Treating Those Traumatized as Children.)
Have an amazing day

Live Well, Laugh Often, Love Much
Be Totallyawake4-life 

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Healing Power of Connection and Nature

Last nights workshop was amazingly informative - and I totally loved that it was offered IN NATURE.

Speaker Niki Buchan came all the way from Australia to share her passion on protecting children's right and developmental need to engage in risky outdoor play and backing it up with lots of research and evidence to how this type of play builds resilience and improves educational outcomes for children.

We were encouraged to come prepared for outdoors with sunglasses and sunhats or shade and despite the very warm weather to choose long pants and socks and walking shoes to help ward off the pesky mosquito bites!  
Niki started the evening by having us recollect in small groups about our favorite childhood memories.  

We exchanged stories about climbing up through hay lofts in family farms and leaping off the16 some feet into hay piles below, jumping off quarries into unsupervised lakes below, playing in the local gravel pit building community forts including little fires to cook food snuck from home on sticks and some of us had access to quick sand within the gravel pit and would play games tossing things into it to watch them sink and than the older children daring each other to step closer and closer and than pulling each other back before they sank too deep. 

For me, like most others sharing, our favorite memories from childhood shared the theme of being outside with friends in the neighborhood from dawn to dusk and with very little to NO adult supervision while we engaged in what today would make most parents toes curl with risky play themes.

We than were asked to share descriptive words for how we viewed our childhoods and words like full of freedom, active and on the go, messy, imaginative and carefree came to the forefront.

Very few of us remembered our classroom or school hours as our favorite memories - long term memories were created after the bell rang. Our  evenings and weekends were spent with friends outside in our neighborhoods engaged in collaborative play with children of all mixed ages for hours on end uninterrupted by adults! 

We than moved on to reflecting on how we would describe the childhood of our own children or children in our programs and WOW what an eye opening paradigm shift the current generation faces in their childhood! 

Terms like over scheduled, bubble wrapped, helicopter parenting, nature deprived and electronic zombies were the most common to describe today's children.

Childhood today is VERY structured not only during their classroom school hours but their evenings and weekends as well. Children spend far more time in front of electronics today than ever before - we have access to screens everywhere from the kitchen table, to the vehicle while we drive, in the classroom, in our bedrooms they are everywhere!

I love this quote from Lady Allen of Hurtwood "Better a Broken Bone than a Broken Spirit. A bone can be mended where a spirit may never be." and at the core of educators advocating for the importance of protecting play for children is this very sentiment.

Increasingly we are breaking the spirits of children with increasing 'rules and regulation's designed by well meaning bureaucrats to keep children 'safe' but in reality we are doing far more damage to their mental health than the risk they were in in the first place! 

So many the rules adults put in place that prevent children from exploring nature and engaging in risky play are ground in fear rather than any actually research or fact.

The two biggest fears tend to be injury with parents and litigation due to injury by educators.

Reality is that injury is a part of childhood and not matter how safe you try to keep children they can trip and fall over their own two feet and break a bone so banning climbing and jumping and swinging out of fear of a broken bone is not worth all they loose from those experiences when done in age appropriate manners with minimizing risks in mind.

Children learn how to SAFELY take risk by being allowed TO take risks! Risk taking teaches children how to hypothesis what will happen if I and than to plan their experiment of the risk and reflect on what went right or wrong including the minor injuries of childhood.

As adults we can help minimize risks by doing a benefit and risk assessment analysis of risky play activities we approve in our programs and can easily show stakeholdes that the benefits of what is being learned and gained from risky experience typically outweighs any REAL risk of injury from the activity. We can also so these in a smaller scale WITH CHILDREN to help them to navigate their risk assessment and create plans for safety.

Doing a proper benefit and risk assessment that shows your contingency plan for minimizing the risk can also alleviate the risk of litigation. Niki shared that while she was not sure the statistics in Canada that in the UK and Australia despite all the fear from administration and educators there has not be one successful lawsuit in regards to a child being injured while playing in a childcare or educational setting and they are the worlds leaders in risky play initiative. 

Children actually LIKE to be a little scared - to push themselves past fear. Watch a little baby playing peek-a-boo - when you go 'BOO' they get that startled fear response for a moment, than realize they are safe and than they laugh and will than 're-engage' in the peek a boo game! Preschoolers LOVE to read stories about scary themes and monsters and will pretend there is a ghost or bear other other beast hiding in their place spaces. 

With the mastery of a risk often comes laughter and more and more we RARELY hear children's laughter today and there is direct correlation with the lack of risk and laughter to the increase we see in anxiety and depression in children and at younger and younger ages. Professionals are treating clinical level anxiety in children as young as 18 months of age today which was unheard of 20 years ago. 

To help show the connection of how learning in nature she showed how you can read a book with children in nature and than encourage them with a 'I wonder if' question to send them collecting items from nature to create their own stick man. 

Using just a few simple tools of garden sheers and twine we were encouraged to create our own Stick men .... educators rose to the challenge getting creative. Some choose to use long grass to twine together and keep their creatures all natural.

Some used flowers to create hats or heads for their stick man.
Finished stick man from some fellow participants

My friend Kim showing off her Stick-man with his lovely quaff of hair!
Love how this educator found a leave that already had two holes for eyes and inspired her to use it as his face!
Admittedly I was so busy wanting to document everyone's work that my own stick man lacks imagination!

Before we left for the evening spent some time connecting with the water life around the little Westminster Ponds! 

It is so true that spending time in nature relaxes the mind and body, reduces stress and anxiety and improves health ... we were not even particularly ACTIVE in nature this evening but  I slept like a baby when I got home!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Is your program decor causing Cognitive Overload?

Reading an article today Decoration or Distraction from over at the Conversation blog and as the new school year approaches it is a great refresher on the importance of truly reflecting on the aesthetics in ones program and is the decor something that is going to enhance learning or is it something that will contribute to cognitive overload and actually result in distraction from learning and in some of today's students actually contribute to their feelings of anxiety in the program! 

Like the author of the article once upon a time I too use to spend my weekends leading up to a new 'theme' transforming my classroom bulletin boards and windows and just about every visible surface into a reflection of the 'theme' we were about to embark on. I used to LOVE making my own bulletin board sets and painting or coloring them with markers  however when we know better we DO better and I have long since purged my theme related 'room decor' and instead choose to adorn the walls with less in order for it to be more for the children. 

The more I read about things like Cognitive Load theory and anxiety in the early years the more I realize that when it comes to our early learning settings the environment really is the third teacher and one of things it needs to be in order to be an effective teacher is a calming soothing setting!

 This is a quick shot of my playroom lay out in my home based programming

One of my goals this month is to do some purging and reorganizing of the playroom and to help remove some of the distracting color in order to focus on the play items.

I am slowly investing in swapping out my red baskets for a more natural wicker option.

I am also debating on either relocating the puppet theater to outdoors where there would be more room to enjoy it or to repaint it to a more neutral palette so that the theater itself is not so distracting in the room.

I have already invested in a new carpet to replace the foam mats which will help on numerous levels in toning down the competing colors in the room!

One of the things I love about being an early childhood educator that is even after 30 years in the field there is still room for growth and learning new things!

Have an amazing day!

Live Well, Laugh Often, Love Much
Be Totallyawake4-life

Friday, August 9, 2019

I was doing great - until I wasn't!

Hello - my name is Margaret and I am a carbohydrate addict! 

I have the healthy eating knowledge on what to do to loose weight and eat healthy balanced meals. I have the cooking skills and kitchen tools to do what I need to do easily and in a time effective manner. I sought out accountability groups and partners and diet challenges to try to keep myself motivated and on track cause I do have a competitive streak to me. I even created this blog as an additional form of accountability to myself and reflective option for my journey and yet time after time I find myself riding the weight loss journey roller coaster!

I get going and I do really well sticking to my plan, using my tools and seeing success that I want and then inevitably I SABOTAGE my efforts and not just in little ways but in horrible ways that see myself regaining any success I have had in a VERY short time.

This is literally ME over and over again .... I will be doing great spend 4 months working it really hard with clean eating and going to the gym regularly and will loose anywhere from 30-40 pounds and than I will have a day where I succumb to social pressure and reward myself with a treat that is 'off plan and BAM the next thing I know I have not only gained back the 30-40 pounds I lost but sometimes a few of their friends they made while they were gone tag along and I weigh more than I did when I started again!

It is infuriating and very hard not to keep beating myself up at my failures. To try to be reflective and learn by rereading my food journal and now the blog option to see what went wrong and why and to dig deeper into the why I am so afraid of success that I sabotage myself by self medicating with FOOD even though it is not what I claim I want for myself! 

I know I want and need to be healthier and stronger - I am so exhausted living in chronic pain and the extra weight only makes the chronic pain WORSE having to carry around that extra weight on a body full of pain but the reality is that the high carb diet actually seems to feed my inflammation and pain so it is a double edge sword of I get an adrenaline rush that helps with pain from eating crap but it is than short lived because it quickly feeds the inflammation making my pain worse again! I know in my heart I WANT better for myself!

One of the things I am beginning to realize is that for me carbohydrates are an addiction and as a result are not one of those things I can manage with the 'everything in moderation.' mantra I normally try to live by. When it comes to my relationship with high carb foods it is really no different than my prior addiction to nicotine and drugs. I have an addiction disorder so for me it has to be an all or nothing because like other addicts my down fall is always rooted in telling myself "I can have just one treat because its a special occasion" and the next thing I know I am hiding in shame parked in my van because I do not want anyone to see because I know it is wrong but the one side of brain does not care to listen and it is woofing down a bag of Doritos and chasing it with a McDonald's Milkshake like my life depending on it while the other side of my brain is arguing why are you doing things you do not want this for yourself!
Than the dance of binge followed by guilt and shame begins and decline follows ... I stop recording in my food journal because I am ashamed to record that I ate a whole bag of Doritos and chased it down with a huge milkshakes while hiding in my van and I hate 'lying' not recording everything that goes in my mouth so because I know I will likely cheat again cause the one side of my brain is insistent it wakes me up in middle of night and it fights me every step at the grocery store putting crap in my cart I do not need and should not buy, I stop participating in the challenges and dodging accountability partners because I am ashamed, I stop blogging because who wants to read about my failures! Than a few weeks of decline I am so far gone in the cycle that I stop even hiding and just eat whatever whenever where ever cause I am just to tired and mad at myself to care.

So from yet another failure I definitely know I just cannot do moderation at all but the challenge remains is that unlike with my smoking and drug challenges I had in my youth I cannot just wall myself off from others who smoke or engage in doing drugs while I get clean of the substances and than just avoid situations where I am around people who smoke or do drugs so I can remain clean of that addiction behavior ... and it has been over 20 years since I have done either and I can tell you that even now when I do find myself around those temptations it is SO HARD not to cave in and you do not face the same pressure to engage in those things as you do when it comes to FOOD.  People do not tend to 'offer cigarettes or drugs to people and if they do they tend to respect the first 'no thank you' that most addicts try to have so that they are not faced with the continued pressure of saying no before falling off the wagon.

Unfortunately I cannot just stop eating or avoid food or eating situations so the challenge is learning how to navigate my addiciton while still engaging in the addictive behavior of eating  ... something one has to do several times a day and as a caregiver I am also faced with preparing food for others who are NOT food addicts and want to have access to sugar and are young and still need to have high carb grains in their life. 

How does a food addict better advocate for themselves in social settings when faced with temptations? It can be so frustrating in those settings when people say  'oh come on you are doing so well on your diet, you look great, you deserve a piece of cake.' and even when we have the will power to say "no thank you" the first time we continue to be faced with social pressure in those settings to 'come on do not be a party pooper just join us in eating the treat's like if you do not partake in the tradition of binge eating at a party you are ruining their fun of the occasion! 

As I sit here reflecting I am honestly at the point that I am tempted to start telling people who do this to me in social settings 'Actually I am not on a diet I am a food addict and if I eat that sugar laden devil treat I will find myself in the back alley of the gluten free bakery binge eating donuts like their are air while I mentally chastise myself for being so weak of willpower to just say NO in the first place. So thank you but offering me that when you know I am avoiding sugar/grains is like offering a crack addict a pipe and telling him he deserves a puff because he has worked so hard" because sadly society does not seem to respect that initial 'no thank you.' of willpower and seems to prod and push and in some experiences actually tease and make fun of you if you continue to say no to partaking in the treat foods. 

Perhaps it is going to take the courage of being 'in your face.' about our dietary needs so that people can, like other addictions, learn to accept that sometimes moderation is just not a choice for some people because their brain is not wired to have that kind of willpower to say NO the next time. For the addict that one puff of tobacco, one drag of the crack bong or one brownie bite and as soon as their brain gets a snoot it it will just keep at them day and night with the cravings and the whisper of the brain of just once more until they give in again and again and again to those cravings and that little voice until they either hit rock bottom to try get help to get clean AGAIN or they die of their addiction! So the only way to prevent that is to NEVER let their brain get access to the addictive agent again!

Honestly in my experience quitting the smoking and drugs was WAY easier than trying to maintain control of what goes into my mouth!

So they say the first step is admitting you have a problem the next step is finding the find the courage to once again start over and once again risk failure. 

Live Well, Laugh Often, Love Much
Be Totallyawake4-life