They say teachers and parents need to be vigilant in allaying children’s fears and addressing media hype, particularly in light of this week’s tragic murder of two more children in SA.
With child protection such a highly politicised area, it is important to tread carefully around the topic with so much at stake in the wider community, says Flinders School of Education senior lecturer Dr Leigh Burrows.
She says teachers can play a part in creating some balance and calm around these debates.
“From an education point of view, it is important to get the message out about not escalating matters via social media, and not to talk about it in front of, and talk gently to, children in the classroom and beyond,” she says.
“Not only might the information re-traumatise people who have experienced family violence but it also could distress professionals who are doing the best they can in straightened circumstances.
“The story is not always quite as it appears in the media and the publicity about Chloe Valentine and other cases has made matters more difficult for child protection workers already under pressure.”
Teachers can play a role in countering the deluge of alarming information – “with scenes being played and replayed in the media” – by creating a sense of calmness in learning spaces.
“The best thing is for teachers to be calm themselves, to transmit a sense of calmness in classrooms and to be sensitive to their own wellbeing and those of the students and parent-caregiver community.”
Dr Burrows, who researches mindfulness in education, says children showing signs of trauma should be referred to school counsellors or other professionals.
“A calm classroom with opportunity for self-expression through the arts will be very useful and helps a teacher pick up on what is happening.”
At the same time, Flinders education experts insist that parents form the foundation of giving children a firm structure for their day-to-day lives.
“If you think that your child is having major problems with behaviour, then seek help from school and/or other professionals such as your family doctor or the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, if mental welfare is the suspected issue,” says Flinders School of Education senior researcher Dr David Armstrong.
“Remember, you are not your child’s friend, you are their parent and unique in their lives,” Dr Armstrong says.
“They need to know that you love them without reservation but need your support to learn positive behaviour and maturity.
“Parents need to show children how to behave through their personal conduct at home; they learn through observation and imitation.
“This means acting unselfishly and positively in your interactions at home and elsewhere.
“If you are struggling with any of these relationships, or need support to teach your children positive behaviour, there is no shame in seeking help from more experienced parents or professionals in the community.”
Dr Armstrong says it’s never too late to heal relationships with children if a relationship is damaged, adding:
- Raised voices should only be used if a child is in immediate danger
- Be persistent, proportionate and consistent in use of rewards and sanctions
- Avoid ‘knee-jerk’ reactions: pause, stay calm and ask yourself what motivates the behavior you see (Attention? Anger/Revenge? Escape? Hunger? Tiredness?)
- Help children want to be well-behaved (intrinsically motivated) to be considerate and to consider others’ feelings (have empathy)
- Manage social media and internet usage and speak sensitively but frankly about media issues which might be scaring them
- When giving commands (e.g. ‘turn off the TV’) give a 5-minute warning, ignore talk-back, say ‘good job’ (to younger children) ‘thank you’ (to teenagers) make eye contact, using a calm voice.
- Ensure that children know you care about them/love them unconditionally – especially at times when their behaviour is less than perfect.
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