Date: 15-05-2023

Thirty Trainers Receive Psychological First Aid Training in Budapest 

From April 3-5, 2023, International Step by Step Association (ISSA) staff and trainers from ISSA member organizations in four countries gathered in Budapest, Hungary for the first in-person edition of the “Training of trainers” (ToT) on “Foundational psychological first aid (PFA) and trauma-informed practices for young children and their caregivers”. The participants included a large contingent of Ukrainian trainers, a large contingent of Hungarian trainers, and representatives of NestingPlay in Hungary, Partners Hungary Foundation, CIP-Center for Interactive Pedagogy in Serbia, and Step by Step Center for Quality in Education in Slovenia. 

The training was developed in 2022 in partnership with War Child Holland and ISSA Member, Amna, to support caregivers working with young children and families in Ukraine and in countries where they have fled and was held online four times in 2022. This first in-person edition was supported by the Minderoo Foundation and represented a unique opportunity to gather as a community of experts and professionals, to share stories and experiences, and to build new relationships with other practitioners.  

Building blocks of the training  

Over the course of two-and-a-half days, the training covered three key building blocks:  

  1. Key concepts and guiding principles of PFA.  
  1. Working with children and caregivers who have been through distressing situations.
  1. Managing stress in professionals.

Day one began by setting the scene for the training and included energizer activities to help the participants get to know each other and get a sense of their combined experience. The training then explored how conflict and displacement affects young children, how to recognize when children are in distress, and how this can be seen in the way that children play.  

ISSA trainers, Zorica Trikic and Aljosa Rudas presented the guiding principles of psychological first aid, namely “Do no harm”, “Look, Listen, Link”, and highlighted the importance of remaining in ones’ own scope of practice and not trying to diagnose or label children. The first day of the training ended with a session on creating safe spaces for children and harnessing the healing power of play — using stress management activities, such as “squeezing the lemons”. This activity, and others done during the training were taken from the "Let's Play Activity Cards", developed by ISSA in 2022. 

Day two of the training explored the importance of self-care to help caregivers sustain themselves and their work, trauma and trauma sensitive practice, emotional regulation and returning to the “window of tolerance”, identity-informed practices, language and communication, and managing stress in professionals to avoid burnout.  

One session largely focused on language and communication — where we learned through various activities such as "My story rocks" conducted in mixed language groups, that language is not only the words we speak and that there are ways to overcome language barriers. The highlight of the day was an exercise on group formation using different colored post-it notes and the lesson that followed on stereotypes and unconscious biases. 

Day three of the ToT was a half day which consolidated all the learnings of the previous two days. The morning began by recapping the information from the day before and included a group discussion on identifying coping resources to help professionals handle stress.  

The final session of the training put knowledge into practice through a case study asking how Ivona, a kindergarten teacher, would console a crying child while simultaneously addressing the various needs of the other children in the room. This activity required the participants to draw on everything that had been discussed over the previous two days. The training concluded with the participants awarding each other their certificates. 

Reflections on the first in-person ToT on psychological first aid  

Having conducted this psychological first aid ToT online four times prior, this was a unique and valuable opportunity to hold the training in person. Being in the same room brought the activities to life, enabled the participants to experience the power of touch and connection, and sparked joy and laughter as participants took part in activities like “Elephant in jail” and “Dancing in the rain”. In turn, this created a sense of kinship, and enabled the participants to build new relationships.