Christian Bellissimo, MSW, LCSW, RPT, LLC
Child Play Therapist
The past year has been filled with adversity for children and adults. A global pandemic. Loss of school and social interaction that children need to thrive. Political tumult that sparked peaceful protests and deadly riots.
Our children have watched, listened, and observed in their struggle to adapt.
Each week, almost daily, I receive calls from worried parents. I’m seeing reactions to stress I’ve never seen to this degree in my 20 years as a practicing play therapist. Many of their reactions are consistent with trauma: Toileting regressions, night terrors, anger, aggression and severe tantrums, separation anxiety, checking light switches and door knobs compulsively, nail biting, hair pulling, vocal and facial tics, hitting.
As caregivers and early childhood educators, we have a responsibility to do what we can to protect our children and maintain a sense of normalcy during these uncertain times.
What can we do?
- Maintain a structured, consistent, daily routine using visuals.
- Limit or restrict access to the news. Young children are unable to discriminate between when and where events are occurring.
- Model expression of feelings, and avoid exposing children to intense expressions of emotion. Children are perceptive and read your verbal and non-verbal communication. Do your best to be a reassuring, calming influence.
- Stay near the children while they play and when appropriate, join the play. Play is their most natural means for expression and making sense of the world. Get down on the floor. Follow their lead, and describe their actions while labeling their feelings.
- Provide children with opportunities for choice throughout the day. Because they feel a sense of loos of control, they need opportunities to make choices to establish a sense of agency.
And, remember that the tumult has taken a toll on the adults, too. If you feel the impact of overwhelm or depression, seek the support of your friends, family, loved ones, and mental health professionals. Your self-care is essential to meeting the needs of the children you care for and teach. Be well!
On January 19, 2021, Christian joined us for a webinar about the impact of violence and trauma on young children, and how that may be exhibited in their play and behavior. Watch the recording of the interview for more detail.
if you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide contact the National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255