In light of the very serious earthquake near Port au Prince, Haiti yesterday we would like to share some information that will help us support students and families. The 7.0 quake had devastating effects on housing as well as schools, hospitals, retail businesses and government buildings. Thousands and thousands of people have been affected.
Many Haitians who are now in Cambridge and surrounding communities are first generation immigrants. This means that the people currently here probably have many family members and friends in Haiti. Communication is very difficult and many have not been able to contact people to find out if they are safe. Services have been disrupted so that even those who have been able to contact loved ones cannot be sure that they will receive medical care, food and water.
The stress of being unable to communicate and of being unable to do anything to help right now can affect families in many ways:
•Adults may be less patient or pay less attention to children because of their worries.
• Children may hear or see pictures of very frightening things.
• Children can sense the intensity of the worry and fear that the grown-ups around them are feeling.
• Children’s behavior may change—they may become withdrawn or sad, or they may act out in ways that you do not expect.
Teachers can support families by being sensitive to what is going on. We need to be mindful that changes we see in behavior are normal in this kind of situation. With support and patience, we can help them feel better.
Some specific ideas that can help are:
- Keep routines and expectations the same. Students feel safe when things are familiar.
- Offer physical and emotional support. Children may need us to listen very carefully during stressful times. If possible, ask parents and other family caregivers of young children what they think their children know or have heard about the earthquake.
- Be extra aware of children’s feelings. Remember that young children are more likely to show us what they are feeling than to tell us with words. We can help by saying things like:
- I wonder what you are thinking about today?
- Mommy told me you saw some scary pictures. Remember that those are far away. Your home and your school here are safe.
- For young children, provide open-ended, sensory activities that are calming.
- Remember that when children are worried or scared they sometimes temporarily forget things that they knew before, such as classroom rules and information such as colors and letters
- Remember that it is normal for children living through very stressful times to show different behavior. With support and reassurance (including keeping rules and expectations at school the same) we can help them get through it.
- Some ways to talk with young children about this are:
- The rules are still the same here. I won’t let anyone get hurt at this school.
- Even when things are scary and confusing, I will still help you and keep you safe here.
- Sometimes even grown-ups feel sad or worried, but they will be OK.
- Check in with parents and other family caregivers to let them know that you understand that there is a crisis. Do not talk about this where young children can hear you.
- Keep radios and televisions off when young children are present.
- Remind children that they are safe. They naturally worry most about themselves and the people who care for them. They need reminders that the adults here are keeping them safe.
- Let young children know that there are many people in the US working to help people in Haiti now.
The most important thing you can do for the children in your care is to remember the extra stress in their lives right now. Thank you for sharing in this incredibly important work.
Many thanks to Amy Bamforth of the Somerville Community Partnerships for Children for sharing her template of this letter about the situation in Haiti with us.
CCPC is funded through a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care