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How We Can Help Our Children to Be "Disaster-resilient" & Why We Must

Talking Race and Kids

It appears that children with COVID-19 have lower mortality rates, and generally have milder symptoms, than do adults who contract the disease. However, accounting for indirect effects makes it clear that COVID might well have devastating long-term impacts on children, especially in socially, politically, economically and, often, racially marginalized communities.

Watch this conversation (recorded on 4/22/20) about the unfolding crisis might be affecting children's mental health, and what we can do - now and in the recovery period that will eventually come - to support their wellbeing. Our fabulous guests draw from the lessons they learned in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina to help us think about how to support kids in the COVID era.

A lightly edited transcript follows. More resources to come!

Dr. Denese Shervington

Dr. Denese Shervington

EmbraceRace: Let me introduce our guests. Dr. Denese Shervington has an intersectional career in public health and academic psychiatry. She is the President of The Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies (IWES), a community-based translational public health institute in New Orleans. She is also the Chair of Psychiatry at Charles R. Drew University. Her recent publication is Healing Is the Revolution, a guide to healing from historical, intergenerational, interpersonal and community trauma.

Dr. Lisa Richardson

Dr. Lisa Richardson

Dr. Lisa Richardson is Chief Impact Officer at the Institute for Women & Ethnic Studies (IWES). After leaving New Orleans for academia, Lisa returned to her adopted home in 2005 to serve as the Interim Executive Director of IWES in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

One of the reasons we wanted to have the two of you on is precisely because of that experience in New Orleans, which again is one of the epicenters for the COVID crisis. New Orleans in having of course dealt with [Hurricane] Katrina. Not only the Katrina itself and the immediate devastation, but the long aftermath of Katrina. I know you've studied this formally, not only as residents but as social scientists and the medical doctor that you are Dr. Shervington. We think that you have a lot to share with us about what that experience might tell us about what we, and especially our children, might be going through at this time.

Let me start though by asking you to answer in whatever way you choose to, tell us a little bit about how you came to this work of trauma, disaster, resilience and so on. So the audience can know a little bit where you're coming from. Let's start with you, Dr. Shervington, please.

Denese Shervington: I came to this work because of love of community, love of children in particular. When, at the time Katrina happened, I was not here, but my son was here and I was immediately drawn in. But I had lived in New Orleans before, so I knew New Orleans was also my home. It's where I raised my children. I started coming back. My nonprofit that was here during the time of Katrina was destroyed. Coming back to a city trying to assist in the development, the recovery, after about two years of going back and forth, it felt like, in order to really work the recovery, I had to be here. Immediately we started to see some of the inequities in how the recovery was happening was impacting children, and particular children that had families socioeconomically disadvantaged. At that time, Dr. Richardson and I we would volunteer to go into classrooms to see what we could do. I began to see a level of behavioral dysregulation that I had not seen before in public schools and all my two kids went to public schools in New Orleans.

After a while, we recognized that we had to address the issues for children. They are voiceless. They're poor. The first time we got a grant that could allow us to make it trauma-informed. To some extent I feel like I was part of creating that term, being trauma-informed. Because it was like, "Look, we can't teach kids about development and positive youth development and we're ignoring their emotional landscape." It was in that, that we began to build our organization so that we could respond. We created a post disaster unit with research, communications, those of us practically going out in the field and doing the work. We weren't trying to research the issue. We were trying to help. But we recognized that in order to help, we needed data. We began collecting data and we also began to provide as much nonclinical mental health services as we could for the children. I'm going to turn it over to Dr. Richardson if I may, because she was very much a part of helping us set that up.

EmbraceRace: Thank you. As you do that, I just want to emphasize that the thing you've said, which may be obvious, but it's certainly a premise of sort of this conversation. Which is, we are understandably all collectively tend to be focused on the immediate impacts and the most dramatic impacts. Economic devastation as well as death, the number of cases, all of that. One way that children have shown up in that narrative is that, they are less likely to get COVID broadly speaking and the outcomes are less severe when they do.

What you're pointing to, and I'm sure Lisa you'll weigh in on this as well, is that of course the impacts are many and some of them are going to be of long duration. That's the conversation we're having. Lisa, how did you come to this work?

Lisa Richardson: Thanks for asking. I moved to New Orleans in 1997 to work on a PhD in social sciences. I'm originally from Washington, D.C. I was very interested in doing community engaged work and applied and participatory research and study. As soon as I arrived, I realized anything that related to community and building community had to take into account education and access to quality education for all young people. I really began looking at the connection between neighborhoods, education and health.

Through that work, I began to think about what does it mean to take into account things like the public health work that we do, when you're thinking about the determinants of health. But thinking about that in terms of mental health, thinking about it in terms of prospering communities. Those were the kinds of interests that brought me into the work. Throughout my PhD study, I was working in public schools. The work that I was doing was focused on trying to help young people in public schools make a connection between their lived experience and what they were learning about it.

At that time, we were working primarily with middle and high school students. When Katrina happened, and I was off in academia and I could see the need, I was invited to come back and help rebuild. So, I just moved back to my adopted city and continued to deepen that work. It was very natural for me to see that we needed to go into schools. We needed to engage directly with young people and parents and sit in circles and talk to teachers to kind of determine how we could help alleviate some of the immediate suffering. But really thinking about disaster recovery as having a long arc. It's not just the physical environment that we were trying to rebuild, but we were trying to build a human recovery kind of approach. That's really what pulled me back into the work.

EmbraceRace: Thank you. You mentioned your work in public schools. We have a lot of questions from educators both around how to reach out now virtually to children who need support. Then the transition back to school, what that should look like. We'll get to that. We lifted the term disaster resilient from you, from the work that you two have done. Before we get into details of what that might look like now, can you give us a little primer as it were on what you mean by disaster resilient. Denese, maybe we can start with you.

Denese Shervington: Yeah. Let me say, before I get into that, that in some of our communities in particular in New Orleans right after Katrina, there was a lot of resistance to the word resilience. People felt tired. This is just one more thing that we have to do. We've been knocked down and we have to get up again and we're tired. Within that experience of the construct of resilience, I want to give room to fatigue.

But when we're talking about disaster resilience for children, we're really thinking about how to help them bring out the capacities that they have to learn how to cope and manage. Knowing that children do not exist in cocoons by themselves, that also invokes the family. In particular, most children spend their time in schools, and so that includes the teachers and the personnel in school. We have spent and continued to spend a lot of time helping to support teachers, helping to support the mental health providers. Teachers in particular, they went into the profession primarily for instruction. To be able to instruct kids and help them to learn, more focused on their cognitive abilities.

But we tend to also expect them just to know how to manage the emotional and behavioral landscape of a child. What we think is important, where children live in their homes, in their communities and in school, we really want to increase the capacity of the people who love and support them and care for them to understand how their psyche works. If we think about ourselves the way we are now as adults, that was not how we were when we were children in terms of our emotional space. Disaster resilience for children include making sure that the people who care for them at multiple levels understand how their mental health, how they present and show you how they're thinking and feeling. Also, beginning, depending on the stage that a child is in, to help them to begin to understand their own emotional landscape. We do know that it's within the first teachers for children are the parents, the attachment, the connection.

It's parents who help children understand their mind, how it's thinking, how it's working. We want to make sure that parents are equipped and likewise schools, teachers in particular, understand how children's mind work. We can help them to understand how they are mentalising their social emotional landscape.

When we're talking about disaster resilience for children, we're really thinking about how to help them bring out the capacities that they have to learn how to cope and manage... Disaster resilience for children include making sure that the people who care for them at multiple levels understand how their mental health, how they present and show you how they're thinking and feeling Also, beginning, depending on the stage that a child is in, to help them to begin to understand their own emotional landscape.

Dr. Denese Shervington

Lisa Richardson: One thing I would add to the word resilience. When Katrina hit, it was a catastrophic natural and manmade disaster of a scale that the United States hadn't seen in many years. But one of the things that we should all be aware of, is we are in a space now where these kinds of disasters be they a pandemic, be they tornado, hurricane, flooding, they're going to keep happening while we're in this fragile environmental space. Resilience in part is preparing ourselves proactively to deal with collective crises. How can our systems really respond when young people are showing us that they are struggling or that they've been traumatized, but they don't necessarily have the words to verbally articulate their feelings? That's part of the resilience effort that it takes for the adults around them to build mechanisms and programs and interventions that can address that.

EmbraceRace: Behaviors, I think you're suggesting, is a kid's form of communication, right?

Lisa Richardson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

EmbraceRace, Melissa: So “disaster resilient,” and the issues people have with those words are really about this frustration and this fatigue. We should have more just systems so we shouldn't have to be prepared for disaster every second. But our kids have to live day to day now, for example, with this COVID and being inside under very different circumstances. We need strategies for today while we build tomorrow. I wonder if we could move into talking a bit more about Katrina, but now that COVID is also happening in New Orleans. Could you tell us a little bit about how New Orleans and Louisiana is better prepared, or not, because of Katrina for COVID.

EmbraceRace, Andrew: It's a great question. I wonder if I could put one other angle on it. Sort of elaborate a bit on what Melissa has said and what you've said. It goes back really to the tension that some people feel around resilience. I think so often a lot of people hear resilience as being the individual thing.

EmbraceRace, Melissa: It's sort of the grit.

EmbraceRace, Andrew: Right. It's about the, yes, individual and how the individual manages. What I actually hear you saying is, well there can be more or less resilient institutions. More or less resilient schools and districts and yes even larger systems. I know in the work that you did, I saw something ... I don't remember exactly the language. But where the both of you, I think were part of a project around essentially how would we build a resilient New Orleans. I wonder if in your answer you can speak to this for the different levels at which we can talk about building resilience. Just to be clear that it's not only sort of a characteristic of individuals.

Lisa Richardson: Sure. Well, I'll start with the easy part, which is to say I think we have learned some lessons about trauma of a community wide scale. We've learned some lessons about which people are historically and continuously at most risk for the worst outcomes. Those are the communities that have suffered marginalization and structural injustice, racism, disenfranchisement. Over and over again, those communities, those geographic areas and the people living in those spaces are always the ones that suffer the most. And are expected to be the most resilient to keep bouncing back. I think we've learned what that looks like and how long range those impacts can be. I will step out and say that, until we have a more just system and we really begin to unpack how we create mechanisms to undo the structural inequities, we haven't really fully learned the lesson. We're going to continue to have situations like COVID today in New Orleans where 70% of the people that are dying are black people.

I will step out and say that, until we have a more just system and we really begin to unpack how we create mechanisms to undo the structural inequities, we [New Orleans] haven't really fully learned the lesson [from Hurricane Katrina]. We're going to continue to have situations like COVID today in New Orleans where 70% of the people that are dying are black people.

Lisa Richardson, PhD

EmbraceRace: I'll go back to Melissa's question and ask ... Again, it sounds like the answer may be no except for the conversation. That you're more ready now to have a conversation. But I do wonder in your 15 plus years of being there for each of you, is there even one thing ... Katrina and COVID aren't the same, we understand that. Yet I'm sure that there are some features of resilience in response to Katrina would probably be really helpful in the COVID case as well. Is there even one change that you would call structural or systemic that has been implemented in New Orleans in response to Katrina that is helpful now that you're dealing with the COVID struggle?

Denese Shervington: Yeah. I am proud that we were a significant part of that work. After being in the schools, being in community, seeing that this regulation of young people in the city and the increase in level of aggression and violence. Rather than young people having access to the mental health services that they needed, they were being put in the juvenile justice system.

We started a campaign in New Orleans, In That Number, and the hashtag is SadNotBad. It really caught the attention first of media. They, within six weeks of that campaign, our newspaper reached out to us and said, "We've been following your campaign. It was on billboards. It was social media. We really want to have a different lens when we look into youth violence." A year or so later, two reporters, they received a fellowship from the [USC] Annenberg School of Journalism. They were very familiar with the campaign and they really wanted to delve into it. After about four months of sharing our data, working with them, they created this amazing multimedia one-week series in the newspaper that caught the attention of the governor, the mayor, the council. They also had a documentary that was done.

Within two months of that, the city council decided that they were going to pass a resolution to have a study group help them to figure out how to make the schools in New Orleans more trauma-informed. I'm very proud to have been a part of that, to have co-chaired that. At least, now we have language. Building up on that, the document we had was called Called To Care. We now know, we are prying to know, that we have to step in front of this issues with our young children and system. People are aware of the need to be trauma-informed. There's a trauma-informed schools learning collaborative here in New Orleans.

Yes, I think we've had some victory. It's almost 15 years later, but at least it now has a little better understanding to deal with what we are going to see, what we anticipate will happen with COVID in the schools in particular.

Lisa Richardson: May I just add that, I mean I think one short answer to that is that the conversation around trauma, the neurobiology, the behavioral impact, the longterm physical, mental, cognitive impression of untreated trauma is something that people are much more familiar with. Which is why I think there has been over the years such an interest in trying to develop trauma-informed approaches.

Also seeing that not all of our children are traumatized. Not all black children are suffering. But there is a way, at times, when the public image paints all children as identical. What we were really talking about is, it really has to do with the experiences and the exposures that young people have had and whether they've been able to get treatment or get to talk to someone. It doesn't have to be clinical treatment. It could be having a social emotional learning part of their education. It could be a discussion group where they talk about what's going on in their lives. That's something all children should have. I think that that part has really come through in the last 15 years.

EmbraceRace, Melissa: But there are a lot of people who work with kids. Let's start with teachers who are just like, "What do I do? I can't even see my kids sometimes. What do I need to ask them to know? What's the simple way to ask them how they're doing without re-traumatizing, if they're traumatized?" And to help the family unit. Parents want to know the same thing. What are the simple things I can do to help?

EmbraceRace, Andrew: As we said, we got a lot of questions, greater than the usual number of questions from registrants. As I was looking at them, it seemed to me that so many of them really sort of emerged from this framework of understanding where we say, look for children and especially for young children, we know that healthy connections are so critical. Healthy connections for brain development, for all sorts of sort of healthy development in general. On the other hand, of course, we live at a time of where people are calling for physical distancing. The idea of social distancing has being itself displaced to some degree by, "No, no, we mean physical distancing and social connection." But in practice there can be a real tension especially for younger children. The youngest children, it's hard for them to make virtual connections.

I'll just highlight one of many questions from a single mom who says, "I'd certainly try very hard to connect with my almost three-year-old. But we're going out for walks and he wants to approach strangers. He literally wants to approach with his arms outstretched looking for that connection, and of course it can't happen." There's this rejection that his two-year-old self doesn't understand. We definitely would love to have some of the specifics. But I wonder if there's a framework you can offer that would help us understand how we navigate this tension?

Denese Shervington: Okay, I'll take a crack at that. I know that there is some more wisdom, so I will just share some of what I think both clinically and from my personal experience as a mother and more recently as a grandmother.

EmbraceRace: Congratulations.

Denese Shervington: Thank you. I think the children have the capacity to sometimes cognitively understand things even though emotionally they don't see the connection. We know from one of the most successful public health ventures we've ever had was around smoking. Going to kids in the classroom when they were both in kindergarten, and basically the saying smoking is not good for you, we shouldn't smoke.

I think there was a concrete way in which we can help a child understand that there is this virus, whatever age they are. We don't know how it's going to hurt us, so we have to be careful. That's probably why we can't run up to the stranger anymore. I think if we do that in a kind way to a child and we're also letting them know that as much as we understand about it, we will let them know. I think they will know enough not to take it personally. What I do think, and this is kind of the A, B, C of any approach around trauma, is when we see our kids are somewhat dysregulated or they're confused, they don't know what's happening, they seem disoriented. It [The approach] is just gently to ask them what's happening.

I know most people on the call either have had their own kids or they work with other people's kids. Oftentimes you also have to give a child just a little time. They're not going to answer it as quickly because it takes a little while. They need to feel safe enough. A little bit of patience. But to really let the child know, and I think from around age two, when the child sees that you're genuinely interested in trying to understand what they're trying to communicate, I think that that is very helpful with a child. I think if we explain to them, “Maybe at this point we are not able to run up and touch someone right now but when this is over, we'll be able to.” I think with gentle explanation that a child will understand. As long as their caretakers are connected to them. We don't have the opportunity in our own home, unless we're sick or the child has the virus, to be distanced from them. They do need that attachment. They do need to feel loved and nurtured and to understand that when things are different, they will be able to do so with the larger community.

When we see our kids are somewhat dysregulated or they're confused, they don't know what's happening, they seem disoriented. It [The approach] is just gently to ask them what's happening. Oftentimes you also have to give a child just a little time. They're not going to answer it as quickly because it takes a little while. They need to feel safe enough. A little bit of patience.

Dr. Denese Shervington

EmbraceRace: Lisa, I'd love to hear your thought on that. I want to throw in, in response or picking up on what Denese just said, of course it's the parents or guardians or other adults in the home who are really feeling this pressure of being responsive to your child even as maybe you're still juggling your full-time job. You're used to having some alone time to yourself. Which a lot of parents will acknowledge that as much as we love our children, it's helpful to have a little bit of alone time. That becomes more difficult and especially younger children aren't necessarily appreciating the need for boundaries and to observe sort of dedicated time for this versus that.

I wonder if you could certainly respond around the previous question of engaging kids and also pick up on this piece of how we as adults can both attend to our children and attend to our own needs, which we certainly have.

Lisa Richardson: That's so important. I think one of the most common things that I've heard from colleagues who have children, is they went from being a parent, if they were working outside of the home, working outside the home to being a person who works at home. And is the teacher, the cafeteria lady, leading the physical activities, soothing, doing everything and trying to serve all of those roles for a child. Because the child is also going to be suffering some loss of the connection with their friends. I think that's one thing that we keep hearing again and again is a lot of parents, not really understanding, especially with younger children, what it means to not have that in school time. Not have the friendship, not have the gymnastics class or the dance class, or the team that they could play on. How finding ways to fill that void in a child's really loving and communal peer space is really important. I do think that there is a natural tendency for a caregiver to try to fill all of those slots. Because you're at home and you're trying to create the safest environment possible.

I don't think that I have a one size fits all answer for that. But I do know that in some of the work that we've done, picking up on what Denese was referring to around the importance of attachment and closeness, an initiative that we were doing in the school. That was an attachment focused intervention around, we called it We PLAY. It was really about play therapy and attachment and helping very young children starting in Pre-K up through about fourth grade, learn how to engage in certain exercises and play certain games where they're talking about how they feel and they're learning about how to be invited to touch someone if they say it's okay and how to take turns doing different things.

Then the next part of that initiative, we were doing it in schools and we trained teachers on how to do it and tracked certain things like the strengths and difficulties. The SDQ measurement. Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire with young people over time to see if engaging in this kind of play and attachment based work could improve how they were feeling and how they're getting along with their peers.

The next extension of that is training parents to do it at home. I think that there are ways perhaps that there could be more structured time at home with a child if you are a caregiver that is focused on talking about feelings and engaging in very specific activities. We'd be happy to share the way that that intervention is structured. (See: Helping Your Child & Family Through the COVID-19 Crisis.) It's not going to work in every setting and it's probably going to be hard to do every day. But I do think along with talking to your young people factually about what COVID is, ("This is why we have to wash our hands") there's also that attending to the emotional impact that it has that could be addressed with some structured activities in the home. If that's helpful.

EmbraceRace: Thank you. I wonder, you were just speaking, Lisa, about how that social warmth connection with peers looks really different right now. It's funny, our nine year old has a good friend next door, and today I said, "Why don't you go outside and just talk to her across the way and just catch up?" She said, "Mom, kids don't just catch up." She's like, "We do stuff. We play. When we're on FaceTime, we don't even say hi, we just play with the phone." This is my nine year old telling me this. She's right. What our older child, we have a twelve year old as well, is playing a lot of games. She actually wasn't a gamer before, but it’s like her recess. Is she's talking to her friends.

We have this reaction of that she's spending too much time on the game. But you realize this is her recess and she really needs this. I wonder if there are some of those different ways that kids are getting what they need that maybe parents need to understand.

Lisa Richardson: I think so. We work with young people from elementary through high school and beyond. In one of our programs, there was a sort of a sister group in Baltimore that wanted to connect with our high school age young people just to talk about how they were dealing with what's going on and exchanging social media handles. It's a facilitated group space, a youth group space, but it's virtual. It just made me smile because I thought, "Wow, this is sort of like bringing back a pen pal kind of situation except we're using these virtual means."

I offer that as an example to say, I think there are ways that we have to be creative in thinking about how young people can connect. I know that people have virtual birthday parties, adults have virtual happy hours and other ways of connecting with their friends. But I do you think ... I mean, gaming I'm not that familiar with it personally, but I know that one of the attractions of gaming for people who enjoy it is that they can play a game with people across great expanses of distance.

Everybody's sort of communally, and in real time, connecting to something that everyone's doing together. I know that there are platforms out there that allow for that. In some ways that's what this move to virtual education is doing. Perhaps it's worth considering, are there some more recreational aspects of our platforms that are being used for classroom instruction that could create spaces for younger people to connect? Not just about schoolwork but about something else. Those are the sorts of things that I think that these kinds of circumstances are pushing all of us to think about how do we continue our programming, our youth engagement work, our education activity across virtual space. I do think that young people, it's important for them to hold on to that connectivity to their peer group.

EmbraceRace: Thank you so much for that, Lisa. Denese, you are the Founder of the Institute on Women and Ethnic Studies. That leads me to sort of lift up something that feels to me a bit of an elephant in the room and we talk about caregivers. I don't want to certainly suggest that men and fathers and grandfathers and so on, older siblings, uncles aren't implicated in the caregiving role and haven't seen the burden on them change more. Or like to be working from home, seeing their children more, those sorts of things. Yet from the work that we do, the vast majority of our audience, our fans on Facebook, on our email list, the people who, as we look down the names, judging from the names, the vast majority people who've registered for this webinar are women. Certainly, literally everyone who left a question, judging from the name, is a woman.

I think it's fair to say that expectations around who does the work of child care, we know that a strong majority of teachers, especially at the youngest ages, are women. I think women very much remain the primary caregivers in many homes and therefore may be feeling an additional weight if not burden right now. What do you have to say about that that might be helpful?

Denese Shervington: I wanted to say something. With the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies, we do a lot of work with young men and with older men. A lot of our work has been very joyful in that space. It's just in the world that we live in, if we're working on women's issues with issues of gender, we also have to recognize that many of the partners of women, not all women, but are men. They're very important in the caretaking of their children. We always want to be inclusive of men.

I just happened to be on a call last evening and there was actually several men on this call. It was talking about the educational system in New Orleans. One of the men said, which was so heart-warming, he said, "I am almost kind of grateful for what is going on now for an opportunity to be home to really participate in my child's life." I think oftentimes, I think it's very important for male caretakers to be very involved in a child's life. I think that they should welcome themselves into that space. I would say to the men, you don't have to be invited.

You are part of your child's life, engage with, take as much initiative and ownership. But I was just so pleased to hear this dad say last night that he was so happy and this was a precious time. He was going to use it as best he can, because when this is all over, he probably will never have that opportunity again. I think that as much as we can encourage our male partners in the caretaking of children to be engaged, I think that will help women because we tend to primarily see that as our role. One of the best ways we can support women who are caretaking is for some of the men in their lives to step in and just be in it. To help the woman not always have the burden of feeling that she is the one who must always care for the children.

EmbraceRace: Absolutely. Thank you. We're getting a lot of questions about re-entry. What happens and what you've maybe learned from Katrina about how teachers, schools should welcome kids back to daycare, to schools? Also, how do you make the case that you guys are making to educational leaders that teachers really need more training to really be trauma-informed when that return happens?

Denese Shervington: I think we must. All the indication now is that there is going to be also a mental health pandemic that is going to accompany this pandemic of the biologic virus. It behooves us and SAMHSA has the principles of being trauma-informed. That one, we have to realize that there is a problem. [EY4] Those of us in leadership in this feel the need to make the institutions and our communities aware that there is going to be an elevation in trauma based conditions.

Then, we are going to have to help teachers in particular understand what are the signs and symptoms. How will trauma, how will grief turn up in the classroom? Then, know how to respond. “Here are the services.” I always say to teachers when I'm with them, is “We shouldn't expect you to be mental health providers. School should provide that or mental health systems. But we want for you to be able to recognize when a child is showing signs and symptoms of some mental health condition. Whether it's from simple anxiety to panic, to phobias, to depression, it's helpful to know.”

Oftentimes, many teachers will say many, many times that if they just have an opportunity, when they see a child who looks somewhat, for whatever reasons, either they're acting out or they're kind of pulling in. That if they just have the time to sit and say, "Hey, what just happened?" The old adage, not "What's wrong with you," but "What has happened?" That if they give a child enough time and space and are compassionate in their approach, that a child will eventually let them know what's happening. So really helping teachers to understand their role in the recognition and knowing what to do, how to pass off a child to the next level. I always say, “Please don't call the resource officer. Call the social worker if a child seems to be having some challenges regulating their behaviors.”

Then of course not to retraumatize. How are you gentle? How are you understanding? How do you understand what a child's triggers are, the cues? Many teachers know that. Their wisdom really resides oftentimes in that frontline space in the classroom.

EmbraceRace: Thank you for saying that about teachers. You're right, in this community, we put so much on teachers to just be everything, to solve everything. Some of what I've heard you, what has happened? What are you understanding? I'm hearing you urge patience, staying with it. It may not immediately emerge, but if you stay with it, it will in all likelihood.

We have a whole bunch of questions that get at this issue of communication. From the youngest children who may not be able to articulate as you noted already, to older children.

Our older daughter is 12, she's reaching out to her friends and wants to be online with them all day. We have a mom here who also has a 12 year old girl who she says seems to have lost interest in connecting with friends. She seem to be withdrawing. That's a real concern.

We have another mom who I think has a daughter, an Asian American, a younger child. She doesn't say how young but probably younger. She's concerned that this child will either be confronted by this bigotry directed at so many Asian Americans. Not only Chinese American certainly. But that even if it's not directed at her, that she will learn that this is out there at some point. How does she manage. I know these are a bundle of things and there are many others I could name, but do you want to add anything else?

Lisa Richardson: I would like to kind of go back to something that you asked a bit earlier about the reentry when things are back to the new normal or things look more like they did in the past, where young people are in the classroom. The educators that we work with are, right now, understandably trying to adjust and be agile and address all of these unforeseen circumstances. Teaching virtually. What to do about school ending early? Is there going to be summer school? How could it be done? All of these things.

I would say that, in many cases the strongest partnerships we have are with school leaders from, in our case, sometimes charter management organizations or school board level support and principals. Administrators who see the need to make this a part of their planning. I mean, this is kind of a generic suggestion. But for those of us who are in spaces and we can have some influence and advocacy, I really think that we have to push and support schools to be able to take this on, to be able to plan for what if there is bigotry against Asian students in school? How is that going to be handled? What are the new kinds of restorative practices or SEL activities, social, emotional learning activities, that are going to be built into coming back to school? Whenever that day happens, if it's in September or if it's later, whenever that is.

I really feel like this has to be a part of what we see as required, not just traditional instruction. Because the young people are going to bring all of the experiences they're having during this period with them into the classroom, and so are the parents and the family. I think that that also has to be a part of how we engage and communicate with families and parents in order to prepare. What that will require is additional training for teachers, for educators, for people who are in the position of providing daycare services. This is a global crisis and it's going to require some ongoing learning and some really mass scale commitment to address this. Because it's unfair to let our children be vulnerable to sort of our gaps in preparation. I think that there are different ways to leverage that.

It might look different in different places, different cultural contexts, different school settings. But it has to be a part of what parents are asking for and what teachers are planning for and administrators are building in to their future plans, in my opinion.

But for those of us who are in spaces and we can have some influence and advocacy, I really think that we have to push and support schools to be able to take this on, to be able to plan for what if there is bigotry against Asian students in school? How is that going to be handled?... This is a global crisis and it's going to require some ongoing learning and some really mass scale commitment to address this. Because it's unfair to let our children be vulnerable to sort of our gaps in preparation.

Lisa Richardson, PhD

EmbraceRace: Yeah. We have great questions that continue to come in and these answers are fantastic as well. I wonder, Lisa, you just touched on and someone did ask about those signs in the parents. How do we look for those signs, not just in the kids but in parents? Say if you're a teacher and parents and kids are coming back to school. I guess it would also be in our households.

We're trying to look for the signs in each other in this stressful time quarantined together. What do we look for in adults and caregivers, in terms of their behaviors? Yeah, behaviors that wouldn't be obvious if they're not communicating. I mean, you might say that we take the same advice that we do with kids. We sort of make space to talk, be gentle, I guess changes in behavior.

Lisa Richardson: It's interesting, Denese and I were in a conversation of a different sort this morning with health care providers and talking about ... In that instance clearly, we were dealing with adults but we were talking about being able to recognize one's own edge states as an adult. Being able to identify when the stress level is becoming something that really needs to be managed directly. Sometimes the support of a person close to you who can observe certain things in you, if we're talking about in a family or in a household unit, there are ways I think that you can help to ask the people you care about.

"How are you managing? Do you need time? Is there something that I can do? Can I take on something to give you more time to yourself?" The advice you gave to your daughter. "Do you need to go outside and take a walk?" I mean, these are simple things, but really focusing as adults on the importance of self-care. Not just in our households but in our work environments when we're dealing with children.

Because if we don't attend to those things, we are not going to be able to serve the families and the young people that we really want to be there for. I think that there are many signs and symptoms that Denese is probably more professionally prepared to talk about regarding sort of traumatic stress reactions. But I think that there has to be, fundamentally a space of open dialogue to fight the withdrawal.

Some people are going to externalize and be angry or act out as the way we like to label kids. Others are just going to pull in and want to cut off from everything. Neither of those states are ideal. Especially if you're a young person and you don't have the language to talk about what is underneath the change in your behavior. It's also going to be much harder for you to learn if you're really struggling with something that's threatening your emotional wellbeing.

But as adults, I think our sensibility around anxiety about the future and the stress around work and what are the next phase of this will look like, what are the impacts going to be, really sometimes put us in a place of looking beyond the now. Working on being more present in the now and understanding what does it mean to be, and I'm going to use the word mindful that I know is tossed around quite a bit. But that is critical to being able to navigate really challenging circumstances. This is something that Denese talks about and gives a lot of support to people around. These are some of the conversations we have with educators.

How do you care for yourself? How do you attend to yourself? How can you not only do that as an individual, but how can you build these kinds of spaces and practices into your organizational or institutional setting? I think that's going to be really critical when we go back to business as usual.

How do you care for yourself? How do you attend to yourself? How can you not only do that as an individual, but how can you build these kinds of spaces and practices into your organizational or institutional setting?

Lisa Richardson

EmbraceRace: Right. To ask the families, “How are you doing,” right?

Lisa Richardson: Yeah.

EmbraceRace: Not just kids. Yeah.

EmbraceRace: Thank you, Lisa. Denese, I want to come to you for what's probably the last question given our time. It's really a nice followup and sort of compliment to the previous one. We've talked about really, of course how adults can help children and can support children whether you're talking about parents, teachers. Something else we've talked about, self-care for adults. We've talked about adults supporting other adults.

We also have a number of questions around how children can support other children. We've seen this in our own home. Where a friend of one of our daughters seem to be going through a tough time and that showed up in some of their virtual interaction. Who knows exactly what it's related to? But this issue, as has been implied through this whole conversation, people are having a very, very different experience. Yes, we're all in this together, but in really different ways and to different degrees.

For those people who are asking typically from a position of relative privilege, which they acknowledge. "We'll be okay. We can work from home. We can support. We feel like we're supporting our children pretty well. But we know that our child has friends for whom the situation may be different." Both now, in terms of helping our child support their other friend. When we get back to school, even alerting our child to the very different experiences that different children and families may have had during this long sort of interim period. Any advice on how parents can support their children to be good allies?

Denese Shervington: I just want you to point out one thing that's really important in children and their symptoms is to watch their sleep. When children are experiencing emotional challenges, oftentimes they begin to have problems with sleep. Either they're not sleeping enough or they're oversleeping. It happens to adults too. But we tend to not think that children might have sleep issues.

I think one of the things that we can do with young people, and again depending on their age, is really to teach them how to be good listeners with their friends. To also help them to understand this is how you can support a friend by listening and being concerned. But there may be letting them understand, again based on their age and stage of development, if one of your friends are saying certain things, you might want to encourage them to speak to an adult. Or you might want to ask them, "Can I speak to an adult about some of the things that you're sharing?" Children, rightly so, often turn to each other when they're feeling distressed.

I think helping our children understand how to listen, how to not be judgmental. Sometimes in the concrete space of being a child, sometimes the children will just say exactly what they feel like. Sometimes it might not come out as supportive. But really gradually with time, especially as they're beginning to approach the more adolescent years where they can understand a little bit more, they can be more abstract. To really help them understand how to listen. We also know that children show in the ways that they play, the things they want to talk about. So helping, as a child gets older, for them to recognize if you're playing in a certain way and you're seeing certain things, your friend might be showing you that something is wrong. So increasing their level of emotional intelligence so that they can be supportive to someone who might be having challenges.

EmbraceRace: That's great advice. Yeah. Thank you so much. We'll take it. Who's sleeping well among the adults? Anyone anywhere? Yeah, it's been rough. This has been awesome. Clearly folks are hungry for this stuff and we so appreciate not only your time here and all the great advice you gave, but just all the work you've done that informs your ability to give that advice. Both and your personal experience, which clearly also comes to bear. Thank you so much.

Lisa Richardson: Thank you. Thank you for having the conversation.

Denese Shervington: Thank you for the amazing work that you're doing, the network of colleagues with whom you're engaged. I do hope that we will see a difference in generations to come and that we'll all be more loving and kind with each other. Thank you for all that you're doing now.

EmbraceRace: Amen to that.

EmbraceRace: Thank you for modeling that. Yeah.

Lisa Richardson: Thank you.

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Denese Shervington

Dr. Denese Shervington has an intersectional career in public health and academic psychiatry. She is the President of The Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies (IWES), a community-based translational public health institute in New Orleans. She is… More about Denese >
Dr. Denese Shervington