Coach’s Corner is a DIEEC blog dedicated to providing fresh ideas for your practice. Meghan Julia Pallante is our featured blogger and provides new content on a monthly basis.

Meghan is a quality improvement specialist and has been with DIEEC for over ten years. She holds a master’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of Delaware.

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Supporting Families in Crisis

May 2024

There are so many layers to working in early childhood education. In addition to educating, caregiving, and running the business side of early childhood education, many programs also serve as a wealth of resources. We should be ready to support the children, their families, and our colleagues in a variety of ways. Many times families will look to their early childhood education programs when they aren’t sure where to turn. Understanding how to support individuals and families who are experiencing a crisis is an invaluable skill for an early childhood educator.

Identifying and Understanding

We can be proactive in our understanding of the hardships that some of our families may experience so that we are prepared when a crisis occurs. We can be better equipped to serve our families by having knowledge and training on supporting children and families in crisis. Consider adding this into your program’s professional development plan. Crises we encounter with children and families may include the following:

  • Death
  • Illness
  • Homelessness
  • Abuse/domestic violence
  • Food insecurity
  • Divorce
  • Natural disasters
  • Incarceration
  • Addiction
  • Financial insecurity/job loss 

These events and situations can have a profound effect on young children. At the same time, we must keep in mind that each child’s experiences are different.  Some children may show outward signs of trauma through their behavior while other children may not. This is why relationships with families are essential. Building a connection with the families of the children we care for lays the foundation for conversations about experiences with trauma. Open communication helps us to provide better support. Some outward signs of crisis or trauma in child may include the following:

  • Separation anxiety
  • Increased tantrums
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Regression in areas of development 
  • Trouble focusing/feeling restless
  • Child becomes quiet or withdrawn

Another aspect to consider is whether the trauma or crisis was a one-time event or something that is on-going. Repetitive traumatic events such as food insecurity or homelessness can also be described as complex trauma.

Supporting Children

  • Providing extra attention and comfort is one of the most important things an educator can do for a child experiencing trauma. This reminds the child that their educator and caregiver is a safe space for them.
  • Older, more verbal, children may want to talk through their experiences or express themselves through play or art. 
  • Remember that infants and toddlers may be affected even if they don’t fully understand the crisis. They are sensitive to stress in the environment around them, disruptions to routine, etc. It is important to have open communication with families so that the child’s needs can be communicated. 
  • Providing flexibility in the daily schedule. For example, allowing a child to nap earlier if they are tired and not sleeping well. 
  • Providing books that help put into words what they may be experiencing. Below are a few examples.

Books to read in times of crisis (check your local library for availability):

  • Grief/loss
    • The Invisible String By: Patrice Karst
    • Grief is an Elephant By: Tamara Ellis Smith
    • The Memory Box By: Joanna Rowland
  • Incarceration
    • Dear Dad, Love Nelson By: Margarett McBride
    • Far Apart, Close in Heart By: Becky Birtha
  • Homelessness
    • A Chair for My Mother By: Vera B. Williams
    • Still a Family: A Story About Homelessness By: Brenda Reeves Sturgis
  • Divorce
    • Weekends with Max and His Dad By: Linda Urban
    • Two Homes By: Claire Masurel 

Supporting Families

One of the best ways we can support families in crisis is to show compassion and provide resources. Being proactive and having an understanding of the resources available in your area will mean you are prepared to provide support when it’s needed. Below are examples of the types of resources to learn about in your town or county.

It is important for all of us to remember that children and families need our support during and after experiencing a traumatic event. Be sure to check in with families even after providing support and resources. Many times, the psychological effects of trauma do not show up until after there is time to process the event. The most important thing we can do for anyone in our lives experiencing trauma or hardship is to be a consistent support by continuing to show up for them. 


Professional Learning Experiences (PLEs)

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