Stable Relationships, Safe Spaces, and Mindfulness
By Cache County School District, Public Information Office
BEING A KID is harder than it looks. Children are constantly learning, growing, and overcoming obstacles, all while dealing with their quickly developing minds and bodies. The stress they experience can oftentimes be good for their development. However, many children are also dealing with trauma, or Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). ACEs are defined as all types of abuse, neglect, and other potentially traumatic experiences that occur to people under the age of 18. According to developingchild.harvard.edu, “More than two- thirds of the population report experiencing one ACE, and nearly a quarter have experienced three or more.” These traumas affect a child’s development, relationships, ability to learn, and mental health. Luckily, there are ways to help.
Cache County School District (CCSD) is devoted to the care of students facing trauma, and is working to promote good mental health in its schools and classrooms. During recent mental health training meetings, CCSD employees received insight on how to mitigate the effects of ACEs at school. Three main ideas were shared that can be implemented, both within the home and the classroom, to improve a student’s mental health and safety. These ideas include establishing stable relationships, creating safe spaces, and promoting mindfulness.
Establishing Stable Relationships
An important way to foster mental health in children is to ensure that they have stable relationships with trusted adults. These relationships can provide consistency, safety, and positive role models in their lives. “The number one factor in reversing the effects of trauma is a supportive relationship with a caring adult,” Debbie Rees, CCSD Project AWARE coordinator said. Over 300 employees within CCSD have been trained to establish and build these relationships. Schools across CCSD have implemented programs such as SafeUT, Hope Squads, and Youth Mental Health First Aid in order to be prepared to support vulnerable students.
Creating Safe Spaces
Another essential tool for promoting mental health in students is the availability of calm and safe spaces. These spaces should be designed to communicate security, control of space, self-regulation, and parameters to the students. A safe space enables discussion between students, parents, and teachers, and builds empathy between a teacher and their class. Many CCSD schools are encouraging a “wellness area” or the use of stress toys and mindfulness exercises to help identify and learn to prevent potential triggers for children suffering from trauma. Classrooms around CCSD have already implemented these practices and have seen great success. “For some of our students, school may be the only sanctuary they have, so they need it to be a safe place,” Anna Marie Isaacson, a CCSD AWARE counselor, said.
An overarching idea that has revolutionized mental health treatment is the raised awareness of the need for mindfulness. Mindfulness is the state of being conscious and aware, as well recognizing emotions and working through them with self- regulation. A powerful example of the impact of mindfulness in action can be seen at Green Canyon High School. Last year, Principal Dave Swenson and his staff implemented Mindfulness Minutes every Thursday, when they practiced mindfulness exercises with all the students. These simple exercises, such as breathing deeply or expressing gratitude, greatly improved the overall culture and feel of the school, and in Mr. Swenson’s words, have “made a big school feel small by being positive in the present.”