Question: While I was an aide for a child in the first grade, I encountered another little girl who suffered a lot of losses.  At least 3 or 4 family members died during the course of that school year. She feared that her parents were also going to die. It took the teacher at least 2 hours to settle her down every morning. It went on all year. Was there anything that the teacher or parents could have done differently to help her feel more comfortable in school? I would imagine she will still have some issues later in life if this is not addressed.

Adele Brodkin: I am sure that you offered her support, however subtly, since she touched your heart. That may have been more helpful than you can know. In any case, although we used to assume that unhappy events in early childhood will always come back to haunt a child later in life; we now know that is not necessarily the case. Many children who have endured traumatic events early on go on to lead normal lives, without emotional scars. In fact, at least 1/3rd of all children who experience significant trauma become happy and successful adults. There is an amazing resilience in such people that is being closely studied. Once we understand it, there is the hope that even more children can join those who have readily overcome early trauma.

Returning to your specific question, though, I suppose family counseling or guidance not only for this child, but her parents, may have added important support. Having either of the parents stay in the classroom probably wouldn’t have been particularly useful, especially if that parent had been sad and grieving.

So don’t allow the memory of this girl’s bad year to haunt you. For all we know, she may turn out to get past her bad year. Thankfully, she did not actually lose either of her parents.

For more advice by Adele, check out the Between Teacher and Parent column.