Supporting Ourselves so we can Better Support our Children and Youth

I'm Stephanie Bourassa, Community Education Coordinator with STOPS to Violence. I began working with STOPS through the Kids Matter program just over a year ago and have learned so much about the many ways children and youth interact with, and react to, the adults around them. Over the last 10 years I've worked with children and youth in a few different capacities; including, kids fitness classes, nutrition education for parents and children, delivering sexual health presentations for teens and young adults, coordinating children's programs for other non-profit organizations, and being a mother myself.

Within the Kids Matter presentations we incorporate person centered mindfulness techniques to help keep the students feeling comfortable and regulated as we discuss the tough topics of violence and abuse. This practice is so valuable in helping our team maintain some sense of calm with groups of 40 kids, but it isn't only for the students. While the facilitators are doing the mindfulness techniques and the students are following along, the adults in the room stop and watch, but don't always participate. I get it, being told to 'breath in...and out...' gets tiresome, and most of us would prefer to roll our eyes, and move on with our day; but, I can think of many times when taking that breath could have saved me from an emotional spiral later. So, we've rolled our eyes, we didn't take the breath, we've had an emotional overflow, and....oh shit the kids/class/daycare/hockey team/youth group is giving you 'the look'. Now what?

It can be horrifying to remember that we aren't perfect, but mistakes happen, and that is okay. I received an email from Heather Plett (we are currently working with her program on Holding Space within our work at STOPS) on this topic and she outlines 8 important steps to take in these moments:

  • Don't keep your wounds a secret, let them in on the story so that they have an understanding of what is going on for you (according to what is appropriate for their age and relationship to you)

  • Let them know what you will do to try and sooth yourself in the future when you are feeling triggered

  • Apologize

  • Model emotional literacy - label your emotions, so that they can learn to label theirs

  • Don't put the burden of your grief/anger/trauma on them

  • Teach them about boundaries and consent, and model them yourself

  • Work to create an environment where it is safe for them to challenge you

  • Don't take it personally

To read Heather Plett's full post "The Wounded Parent: Raising kids while doing our own healing" please click here.

I was struck by how applicable these concepts are both for parents and educators. These steps seem basic, but they can be very difficult to practice. When a child challenges our ideas (especially when we are CERTAIN that we are right) it can be easy to take it personally and allow the challenge to be a hit to our ego, rather than a learning experience for them. Unless we are aware of how are emotions affect us, or even when they are, it can be difficult to reassure them that we can sooth ourselves in the future, leaving an apology feeling empty, or model emotional literacy and help educate them about their own emotions and how to handle them.

When we work or interact with children or youth it can be easy to become focused on meeting their needs first and setting our own to the side. It can be incredibly hard to put yourself first, especially when you know just how much those kids need you, so next time you hear 'breath in...and out..." resist the urge to roll your eyes, and take 30 seconds for you.

Wishing you many days of walking on sunshine,
Stephanie Bourassa
Community Education Coordinator