School reentry is a big deal. Children and teens spend a large amount of their time in school. School is a complex place where they not only learn academics, but they learn how to participate in the world socially. It is an environment where wonderful, positive things can happen to build self-esteem, foster creativity, and instill a positive sense of self; or it can be a place where self-image is crushed and feelings of isolation grow.
Returning to school after a burn injury or traumatic loss poses a new set of dynamics for the returning student and the school, above and beyond the typical challenges. Average children and teens have a tremendous amount of things happening to their bodies both physically and mentally as they grow and develop. Children who have experienced trauma have extra layers of things happening to their already busy bodies.
If their trauma was physical, such as a burn injury, they could be experiencing a host of new sensations, from itch, to pain, to exhaustion, to overheating. In addition, there may be medication side effects or daily therapies to deal with. As a result, these kids may have to work harder just to get back to where they started. Kids experiencing emotional trauma can have significant changes in their ability to regulate emotions, to concentrate, to sleep, and to participate in once-favored activities. And let’s not forget the family members who likely have had to take on different roles following an incident. They may also be facing related financial burdens. Close family members, siblings, or peers who can identify with the survivor can experience many of the same emotions after a traumatic incident.
But through all this, amazingly, they continue to heal—they reach the point where they are ready to get back to living their lives. School reentry is a big deal.
Some kids seem to embrace the changes and go on to have a successful school career; and others find themselves feeling unequipped and scared. Even teachers and other school staff can find themselves feeling unprepared to appropriately support a child returning after burn injury or traumatic loss.
We at the Phoenix Society often hear such comments as, “We’ve never had a burn injured child in our school” or “We don’t know what to expect” or “I’m not sure how to talk to the students about what happened.” However, one caring adult seeking information to help the transition can make all the difference and can help launch a child on a trajectory of success.
The Phoenix Society’s school reentry program, The Journey Back, provides tools and resources any caring adult can use for every step of the return to school after burn injury or traumatic loss. In addition the Society is developing this program in an online format to make the resource more readily available. No matter how rural your location, no matter how far you are from a burn center, these materials will be available to guide you in supporting a child’s school reentry after burn injury or traumatic loss. You can also learn more about how to use the program through an online tutorial that walks you through all the main topic areas and shows you how to apply them in your school reentry planning.
Children and teens who have survived trauma and traumatic loss deserve a supportive transition back to their school lives. They have worked incredibly hard to get to the point of reentry, and with a few simple strategies to support these children and teens, you can help them continue to move forward in their recovery.
By: Amy Clark
Program Director, Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors
Start now by visiting www.phoenix-society.org and learn about The Journey Back— because school reentry is a big deal!