Very often, it is the more significant holidays or celebrations that are seen as being difficult to cope with and acknowledged as causing emotional stress; while these smaller quasi-holidays are given less credence in terms of emotional impact, leaving many children and adults silently struggling or finding it difficult to express how they are feeling.
Mother's Day is typically considered a time of celebrating, love, warmth and caring family experiences, with tributes to mothers shared via social media, in person, with flowers, cards and family gatherings. However, for some, Mother's Day doesn't bring this warm, caring feeling; for others, even the slightest mention can trigger emotions that a child or adult struggles to overcome.
In the Early Years classroom, we portray mothers as positive, supportive and caring, and we often fail to recognise that this is not everyone's experience. If we stop just for a moment and consider a room full of children and adults, within that one room, there is undoubtedly a wide diversity of Trauma – as some could have:
lost a mother due to illness
may never have met their mother
may have lost a baby or babies
may be unable to become a mother
might have suffered emotional abuse, neglect, or physical abuse
Some might live with grandparents or relations
Others could be separated from their mothers/parents due to war
For some, they could be living in care or moving among foster parents
Of course, the list is not exhaustive, and undoubtedly there are situations which have not been included above. Still, the point is that every child/person has had their own experience, an experience that helps to shape them and impacts their lives in both positive and negative ways. If these experiences have been traumatic, specific triggers will inevitably bring otherwise suppressed emotions to the fore, causing re-traumatisation and resulting in adverse well-being for children and adults.
Let's pause for a moment and consider the children we work with. As trauma-sensitive educators and practitioners, we must ensure our "celebrations" don't act as "triggers" for others. We must remember that children with high Adverse Childhood Experiences scores (ACEs), those moving between foster care families, and children whose mum is absent due to death or illness, separation or divorce. Children from refugee families celebrating Mother's Day only serves to highlight the Trauma experienced due to family separation as a result of war.
As Trauma Informed practitioners, we need to approach such quasi-holidays, those well-meaning celebrations, with care and sensitivity and as well as highlighting the positives, there is a need to help promote awareness of diversities, which despite the well-intentioned activities, result in re-igniting triggers that re-traumatise and cause emotional distress; this, is more than demonstrating inclusivity within the classroom and ensuring that all children can participate; this is about recognising that our actions can have adverse negative impacts on the emotional wellbeing of others.
Below are a few Trauma Aware facts we should consider when organising Mother's Day:
Give the child a voice – rather than telling them to make a card for Granny instead – ask if they would like to participate in the celebration.
Ensure that Choice is utmost in the activities of the day.
Make the day about the child – helping them to identify, discuss and engage in a safe environment.
Explore, support and recognise – family diversities within the classroom by engaging with books/chats before, during and after the event – helping children to deal with uncertain emotions.
Be aware of changes in the family situations of the children and the team you work with.
The Importance of Choice
Every child must be given a choice about who or if they participate; we should never press a child into making something (even for another family member) if they would rather not!
Providing choice highlights to children that they are valued, respected and unique regardless of their family situation – this is a critical stage in trauma recovery. What has happened is never their fault and not something to be seen as shameful.
Approaching Mother's Day through a Trauma-Informed Framework
So how do we approach Mother's Day through a trauma-informed framework or lens? It is difficult to know if there is a straightforward answer here; however, by building on SAMHSA's definition of trauma-informed organisations, we could consider the following:
Realise – that Trauma is widespread, that not everyone has had the same experience, or a positive experience, on those days we celebrate. Ensure we are offering support and addressing the individual needs of everyone.
Recognise – It is essential to recognise the signs and symptoms of Trauma in children and others and identify triggers to not adversely impact emotional well-being.
Respond – Make sure that we respond to the individual needs of every child, and ensure that their voice is heard at all times.
Resist re-traumatisation – Always work compassionately, either with children or adults. Offer Choice, allow free expression and ensure that we promote stability and support through all activities.
Remember that a trauma-informed approach is characterised by six key principles, which help build a supportive and positive environment, helping to promote recovery.
Trustworthiness and Transparency
Collaboration and mutuality
Empowerment, voice and Choice
Cultural, historical and gender issues
While culture, society and community need to engage in national days of celebration, we should aim to do so with care and awareness of others, recognising that every experience can be different and respecting everyone's individual needs.
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