There is not enough darkness in this world to extinguish the light of one small candle—Spanish proverb
We reflect on the light, not only the shadow, cast by events to recognise what is possible: educators already have professional approaches, tools and resources that can support themselves and young children in such moments.
The devastating events of Friday 15 March continue to reverberate in a week we would normally be assembling educator resources for Harmony Day—21 March. This is when the community usually gathers, feasts and enjoys the beautiful, diverse cultures that have helped build Australian life.
Instead the week began with thoughts of trauma and loss. In place of the decorations and dances of Harmony Day the media is full of interviews with gun control experts, psychologists and political commentators.
We were struck by how little in the ECA cupboard can prepare us for such large-scale destruction carried out by a single human being and directed towards people they didn’t know. The events expose our vulnerability and sense of inadequacy. Yet they also expose the strength, love and grace lying hidden in our midst.
As educators and carers of young children we want to take the chance to reflect on the light, not only the shadow, cast by this tragedy; the power of ordinary goodness and extraordinary leadership and take the time to recognise that educators already have unique tools that can carry us and the children in our care through this time.
What can we do?
It’s not possible to determine a ‘best response’ while we are still grappling with unfolding events. It’s a time for reflecting, listening and coming together.
- The tools of critical reflection, listening, resetting the environment and close observation are central to educators’ work with children every day. These are the tools for difficult times.
- We can reaffirm in our practice and among our teams that the ongoing work of educators with young children is building harmony, understanding difference and developing children’s relationship skills.
- The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) has for many years embedded this year’s Harmony Day theme—Everyone Belongs. The EYLF equips educators and carers with exactly the skills, understandings and approaches to ensure everyone belongs in ways meaningful to each child and their circumstances. The EYLF commits each educator year-round to ensuring every child and family has a sense of belonging and that each child is valued and responded to on the basis of their unique needs and capacity.
- We can take a lead from NZ PM Jacinda Ardern’s message of resilience and compassion and from the many people who flocked to provide support.
- We can speak up for unity and kindness and amplify the positive. It might be time to get a little louder about what is good, hopeful and strong rather than give attention to what is malicious, degraded and negative.
Harmony Day’s message is Everyone Belongs. This has real resonance in Australia’s Early Years Framework. It joins the Maori saying Kai Kaha—stay strong—and many other affirmations of strength and support #WeAreThemTheyAreUs.
Here are some resources that are written specifically with children, families and educators in mind…
Explore the links below for information on supporting diversity, inclusion and empathy as well as educator resources on recognising and responding to young children’s trauma.
Harmony Day 21 March—Now in its twentieth year and expanded to Harmony Week (17 to 23 March) it is a chance to communicate the importance of inclusion and cultural connection, promote participation and find fun ways to learn using activities listed on the Harmony Day website. See here.
Inclusion for our culturally and linguistically diverse community
When early learning services celebrate cultural events, children are exposed to many cultures from a young age and embrace different cultures, inclusion and relationships.
- ECA’s Cultural Inclusion by Melinda G. Miller, an Everyday Learning Series title, Volume 15 Number 2, 2017 also available in e-version.
- Find a free Every Child article about Inclusion for our culturally and linguistically diverse community.
Long term strategies for inclusion and empathy
Children start to show signs of empathetic concern from 10 months of age and there are many strategies to promote empathy in children and steps families and educators can take to encourage and cultivate empathy.
- You, Me and Empathy is an ECA recommended picture book by Janeen Sanders that uses verse, beautiful illustrations and a child called Quinn to model the meaning of empathy.
- An article on three strategies that can promote empathy in children.
- ECA’s Research in Practice Series—Helping children with difficult things by Pam Linke.
Respond to children’s trauma
Trauma can have many sources and can impact on young children, not only from direct exposure, but also by seeing and hearing traumatic events in films, television, the internet, radio, video games and in newspapers. Children can be affected by being attacked as well as by watching someone else being attacked. This includes seeing and hearing violent acts on. Other examples of violent acts and attacks include bullying, family violence, neglect, physical and sexual violence.
- How to talk to your children about terrorism in the wake of Christchurch—point out the heroes, use drawings to help express emotions, are among suggestions in this article for talking to a child about what they may have seen in the news.
- The NZ Ministry of Health provides these resources to support children and families in the wake of the event.
- Be You Trauma factsheet for educators
- An age guide and strategies that you can share with families and carers in this article from the Parenting Place team in Christchurch How to talk to your kids about: Trauma.
- Emerging Mind has resources and a toolkit
Intergenerational experiences of cultural trauma can have an impact on children. This includes stressful migration for refugees, a history of trauma such as the Stolen Generation in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and adapting to a new culture dislocated from friends and family. The impact of these experiences can last for a long time. Learn more.
Each child is different
Experiencing any of the events described as traumatic in this article doesn’t necessarily mean a child will be traumatised. A child’s relationships, their feeling of safety, the presence of risk factors, and the personal meaning they attribute to the experience will all influence their response. See fact sheet here.
Take your own steps
Learning to self regulate and take care of yourself is a big part of being able to protect and support young children during difficult times. Many adults express feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness in the face of traumatic events. They would like to contribute to solutions, show support and solidarity and be an effective ally to those who feel marginalised. Click here for an ECA post on The Spoke about educators understanding and supporting their own wellbeing.
You can share the good stories, donate to a Muslim community charity, focus on the strength of the community response. Reflect on the strong compassionate leadership of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who says it takes courage and strength to be an empathetic leader.