I am attending a conference this week with the Association for the Advancement of International Education and some of the sessions are truly insightful. On Tuesday, Michael Thompson and Rob Evans talked to over 300 representatives of international schools trying to help us all make sense of the past year and potentially get some insights on how to move ahead through all this uncertainty. At some point in the conversation, one school leader asked about handling the trauma that the current pandemic has caused in our children and I almost saw Michael Thompson get quite upset. And as the professional he is, when Dr. Thompson gets upset, he talks of science, data and ideas rooted in his immense experience talking to children.
Dr. Thompson half jokingly asked the school leader whether he was a mental health professional trained in diagnosing trauma and then launched into an evidence and science based explanation to caution us all about using the word “trauma” lightly and about labelling this generation as a compromised one.
Mentioning the hundreds of kids has has spoken to, Dr. Thompson corrected the school head.
“This has been hard, it has been painful, there have been losses, kids have been upset, and frustrated and bored and angry and they have a sense of small losses. The loss of connection with their teachers, the loss of connection with their friends, where they have been remote learners for a long time. But to sweep that all under the trauma narrative, I want you not to do it. I want you to acknowledge that this has involved sacrifice and pain and that has produced completely normal reactions: grief and anger and sadness – these are normal reactions, they are not mental illnesses. And trauma is a mental illness where the brain has been completely overwhelmed by events and […]. But as long as children have been in the home, with people who love them, and have been in contact with teachers who have been trying to connect with them and reach out to them and educate them and move them forward in their lives, I think it is unfair to say that they’ve all been traumatised by this. They’ve been challenged, they’ve been made uncomfortable, they’ve had some strong reactions to it but I want everybody to not turn to the trauma narrative so easily. ” (Dr. Michael Thompson speaking at the AAIE Conference)
Dr. Thompson goes on urging us to stop referring to this generation as “the lost generation” as the way we frame this, in school or at home, will direct the way we behave going further. And we all know about self fulfilled prophecies – the more we tell our children they are traumatised, unable to do this or that, handicapped by a pandemic, the more they will be exactly that.
Dr. Rob Evans reminded us in the same conversation that “thick skin is made of scar tissue”. The only way we can build our children up to be resilient and strong is to allow them to feel hardship, to struggle, to have it hard. Sure, unconditional love and their basic needs must be, to the best of our abilities, provided for, but for the rest, how about we trust the individuals we are raising to emerge stronger out of this, ready to lead a world of tomorrow that we have a very, very hard time picturing at this point?
(this post is written by my learner self in the hope that my parent self gets a grip and becomes more courageous – science always helps)