Javier Gonzalez, School District 8’s mental health and addictions co-ordinator, at Trafalgar Middle School. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Javier Gonzalez, School District 8’s mental health and addictions co-ordinator, at Trafalgar Middle School. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

SD8 provides trauma training for teachers

Javier Gonzalez is applying new research about trauma and brain development

A child was screaming non-stop, so much so that other students had to be removed from the room, despite teachers’ attempts to calm him down.

Javier Gonzalez, co-ordinator for mental health and addictions at School District 8, happened to be at the school and was called in.

“It was kind of chilling,” Gonzalez told the Nelson Star. “He was screaming at anybody that would show up.”

The techniques the adults were using to calm the boy down were not helping, he says. So he asked all the adults to go out into the hall, “to calm the room down.”

He realized that as a large, unfamiliar man wearing a mask, he could appear intimidating to the child.

“I knelt down without looking at him. I got him to be curious about me, rather than me curious about him. Then he looked at me, I looked at him briefly, and he screamed again.”

Gonzalez didn’t react. He looked at the toys the boy had been playing with and asked him what his favourite colour is.

“You can utilize distraction,” Gonzalez says. “Sometimes if you pick it right, the child will oftentimes not know how to respond, but they will pause. That pause in the brain causes a reaction of different chemicals. Those are the chemicals that we’re seeking to have when we are trying to connect with a child.”

The child told Gonzalez his favourite colour was green. Gonzalez said the car the boy was playing with was a nice one, and the boy responded that it was not a car, it was a dragon, and then offered to show Gonzalez the rest of the toys.

“I took an interest in his life for two minutes.”

Gonzalez asked the boy if he would be able to go back to class now and do his work. The boy said yes.

This does not mean the problems between the boy and the school were solved, but it illustrates a useful technique that can have a big payoff over time, he says.

“I’m not a rocket scientist. I am not the guru of these things. But it is the calmness that I think I presented to the child that he was tapping into. I wasn’t upset at him.”

Gonzalez wanted to lower the stress the child was feeling. The longer the stress lasts, the longer the neural connection to a possible past traumatic event will last and strengthen. Stress can be good, and can help us deal with many life situations, he says, but after a certain point it becomes destructive.

“So the ability for people to calm a child down to break that cycle is where we need to go.”

Gonzalez says kids’ states of mind, especially younger kids, depends on that of the adults confronting them.

“The child will have an emotional reaction to that. And oftentimes we see this as bad behaviour.”

How do you confront “bad behaviour” when you, the adult, are triggered into responding in habitual ways? How can we be not upset?

It starts with learning about how trauma affects kids, Gonzalez says, and lately he’s been organizing training for local teachers, and other adults in the schools, in trauma-informed practice.

What is trauma-informed practice?

He provides this definition of trauma:

“Trauma is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self and their ability to feel a full range of emotions and experiences. It does not discriminate and it is pervasive throughout the world.”

Gonzalez says trauma can affect the development of the brain, and that disturbing experiences will impact people in different ways.

Trauma-informed practice – carried out by a psychologist or teacher or anyone else – means “learning to utilize negative events or behaviours as tools to know ourselves better and become less reactive,” Gonzalez says, adding that the desired result is kids who feel safe and supported.

Danielle Klassen, a Grade 6 teacher at Trafalgar Middle School who has taken the training, says a teacher’s instinctive reaction to “bad behaviour” might be traditional punishment or giving the child a negative consequence.

“But for these kids, that sort of thing doesn’t work,” she says. “And now I know why. We can work to retrain (our) brain in how to react to certain triggers and situations.”

Gonzalez says current brain science shows that if adult intervention in a child’s behaviour is consequence-based, the only learning that takes place is how to avoid that painful experience.

Klassen says she did not fully understand how powerfully traumatic events can affect a child. These events, which will affect different children to differing degrees, can include such things as a parental separation, parents who are abusing drugs or alcohol, or family violence.

Gonzalez says the pandemic has pushed some students into situations where they need professional therapists, and many school counsellors are not trained in mental health. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Gonzalez says the pandemic has pushed some students into situations where they need professional therapists, and many school counsellors are not trained in mental health. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Teaching relationship-building

Trafalgar Grade 7 teacher Chris Mieske, who also took the training, says he has worked extensively with marginalized and at-risk youth, and has observed that many of them have had a traumatic experience in their past.

For him, this means working differently, not just with individual kids, but with the whole class, working on how they can show kindness and acceptance each day toward their classmates.

He helps them learn that they all have different histories.

“They need to understand that many of the students have lived very, very positive lives, and they may be unaware that somebody else might be living in poverty, unaware that somebody might have had a tragic loss.”

He says some kids are surprised that he spends so much time on this, but based on their journal entries and on comments in class he thinks they are learning it.

“One of my students, kind of with a laugh, said that being kind is as important as English and math, and he’s right. Everybody needs to feel welcome.”

Trauma and the pandemic

Gonzalez says COVID-19 has been tough for some students and for parents who are having difficulty raising them.

“Teenagers are built to take risks,” he says. “The basics of becoming an adult is for them to explore the world. And we’re having to say, ‘Do not experiment, do not do these things.’”

It’s especially challenging for students who don’t have good support at home or solid friendships, he says. He is seeing more family disruption and more depression than usual.

The pandemic, he says, has pushed some students into situations where they need professional therapists, and many school counsellors are not trained in mental health.

With the trauma training, Gonzalez hopes to partially fill that gap with more adults at school who have at least a minimum of training.



bill.metcalfe@nelsonstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Stock photo.
Grand Forks drug trafficker to be sentenced in Castlegar

Ryan Plotnikoff pleaded guilty to trafficking meth, following his November 2020 arrest by Grand Forks RCMP

Stuart Ashley Jones, 56, was at Grand Forks provincial court for sentencing on May 5, 2021. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks man shot by police during peak freshet sentenced to house arrest

Stuart Ashley Jones was shot by a Grand Forks Mountie after ramming two police cruisers in May 2018

Accused drug trafficker to plead to federal, provincial charges in June

Matthew Straume said he’d missed his last court date because he was ill

Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks sex crimes trial adjourned until summer

The trial was set to begin at the city courthouse Wednesday, May 5

Photo: Kathleen Saylors
Grand Forks city council votes down motion to support Penticton in paramountcy battle

Coun. Neil Krog insisted Penticton’s issue with Victoria is about city bylaws, not homelessness

Thursday, Feb. 4: RDKB Chief Engineer Darryl Funk hoists a banner commemorating last year’s championship season by the Bantam House Bruins. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Bantam Bruins honoured at hair-raising banner ceremony at Grand Forks’ Jack Goddard Arena

Asst. coach Mike Tollis said he reluctantly gave in to the team’s victory wish that he cut his pony tale

Junior A team Coquitlam Express is offering all Tri-City residents who get vaccinated against COVID-19 a free ticket to one of their games. (Facebook/Coquitlam Express)
B.C. hockey team offering free tickets to hometown fans who get the COVID-19 vaccine

‘We know the only way to get fans back is people getting vaccinated,’ says Express’ general manager Tali Campbell

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon speaks in the B.C. legislature, describing work underway to make a small business and tourism aid package less restrictive, Dec. 10, 2020. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s latest COVID-19 restrictions cost thousands of service jobs

Part-time workers set back again by spike in virus spread

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Leaked report shows detailed B.C. COVID-19 data not being released to public

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Abbotsford school board trustee Phil Anderson has stepped down after sharing an offensive image on Facebook. (File photo)
Abbotsford trustee temporarily steps down after sharing post relating COVID masks to slavery

Phil Anderson to receive training to better understand provincial mask mandate after posting picture

B.C. announced the launch of an app May 7 that connects youth struggling with mental health and substance use with “life-saving” social services. (Screen grab)
5 years in the making: Mental health app for youth and children launches in B.C.

The province provided $1.6-million to fund a virtual care platform

Amazon has announced the creation of five new facilities in B.C., to employ about 2,000 people. (Amazon/Special to Black Press Media)
Amazon adds new facilities in Langley, Pitt Meadows, Delta, Vancouver

The Vancouver port centre will be the first Amazon centre to feature robotics in B.C.

Mahitha Mohan is working in Nelson as a community support worker at Community Connections Support Services. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Immigration pilot targets hard-to-fill jobs in West Kootenay

Program helps newcomers get permanent residency status in rural areas

Most Read