For many students experiencing remote learning due to COVID-19, school looks a lot different. The stress of an altered learning environment is felt by educators, students and parents alike. This can then be compounded by health concerns, uncertainty about the future, and the reduced social interactions that are important for people of all ages.
For students, in addition to the classwork, school typically is a major contributor to social-emotional learning and well-being. Of course, school isn’t the only place for social connections, home-schoolers have been doing it for years. Yet, with COVID protocols limiting groups gathering, even they are feeling the strain of reduced interactions. The stress is having negative consequences across the board.
In a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued November 13, 2020, they stated that between April and October of 2020, mental health–related visits to emergency rooms increased 24% for children aged 5-11 and 31% for those 12-17 years old.
So how can we help our students navigate this season of life? Here are a few tips compiled from the University of Michigan Health, The American Institutes for Research, one of the world’s largest behavioral and social science research and evaluation organizations, and The Mighty, a digital health community
First, as flight attendants remind passengers, in an emergency, you must take care of yourself, in order for you to be able to help others. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends or family members. Set up a group chat or use social media to connect with others in similar positions and use that group to share coping ideas, or as a sounding board when you’re having “one of those days”.
Then, designate an area for your child to do school. Whether it’s the kitchen table or a desk in their room, make sure they have the basic tools for school easily accessible. This may have been done back when the pandemic began. If so, reevaluate it now. Some things will work for a short term, but modifications make it more productive for extended usage. Do they need a quieter setting? More light? Less light? With the change of season, is light from a window now causing glare on the screen? Are they comfortable? Don’t forget ergonomics! (Check out Posture For Students on tnchiro.com)
It’s always appropriate to reach out to the teacher, or look for supplemental tools when a student is struggling with a topic. If you have general concerns that your child just isn’t getting “enough”, talk to the teacher. They can help you know which tools to invest in to improve math skills or reading comprehension. Remember, when classwork is assigned, some students work faster than others. Those students are typically asked to read or given some other task while others finish. Much of this is greatly reduced or even eliminated in a remote school setting. Another point to remember is that we are all in this same situation. Across the country and even the world, educators and parents are all dealing with this and having to make changes to the normal teaching scenario. This means that there are many new techniques and activities being developed to make up for any “loss” of instruction.
It may also help to consider the lessons your child is learning that they wouldn’t get in the classroom. Pediatric psychologist Melissa Cousino, Ph.D states: Children are still learning about kindness, working together with their community, problem solving and flexibility during the pandemic – values which we know are hugely predictive of future successes…When parents are feeling stressed about math or reading, it’s helpful to remind yourself that even during a pandemic, children are learning many new things they’ve never faced before and that’s important.” Additionally, this is a great time to add in a few life skills. Making a meal plan and grocery list, budgeting, laundry, even home repairs for older students are skills that will last a lifetime.
Child and adolescent psychiatrist Sheila Marcus, M.D. notes: “Children by nature are fairly resilient. Having six months to a year of distance learning is very unlikely to fundamentally change the development trajectory.” She adds that interactions within the family unit are some of the most important socialization a child experiences. “The relationship with parents frankly is what we call the secret sauce – that’s what sets children up for cognitive success or success with intimate relationships,” she says. “Don’t discount the relationship you have with your children.”
Children will miss their friends. (Who are we kidding? Even adults miss hanging out with friends!) Depending on your personal situation and the restrictions in your area, your face-to-face interactions may be rather sparse. Set up a virtual meeting or video conference call. Surprise a friend by dropping off a small gift to their home. Go old school and look at family photo albums. Print out several and make a new photo album or scrapbook. Write a letter and mail it. We have so many communication options!
Check in periodically with your student. Let them know that it’s ok to express their feelings and then listen when they do. Marcus suggests parents play the role of “detective” with their children, especially during uncertain times. Are they more or less anxious than they were a few weeks ago? Note their actions as well as their words, especially with younger children who haven’t learned to articulate feelings well. Stress can lead to changes in behavior or emotional outbursts. But it can also lead to less obvious actions such as changes in appetite, significant changes in sleep, or losing interest in activities they normally enjoy (beyond the normal aging out of a particular phase).
If your student is experiencing nervousness or anxiety, encourage them to think of ways they can help their own situation. This helps them learn that struggles aren’t always overpowering, but that if they look around, there are things they can do to help them take control. While they can’t always control what happens around them, they can learn to control their response to it – a critical life lesson! For example, routines and predictability are important and help students stay on track. If they are struggling with when things are due, or when to log into a class meeting, timers, whiteboards and planners may help students navigate through the day and various tasks and online sessions.
You can also help students learn to keep things in perspective and deflect stressful emotions by thinking of others. Ask them to think of someone that needs more help than they do. This gets them thinking outside of their own situation. It opens the door for the family to work together to assist their community. As an added bonus, the student is learning an effective coping skill.
Statistics Show Exercise is a Healthy Stress Reliever for Teens and Adults and may be another great way to help your child with stress management. Additional information on health, wellness, nutrition and more can be found at tnchiro.com.
If you have questions, or concerns that your child’s stress and/or anxiety could be more serious, talk to your child’s doctor. One of the advances that has been made in dealing with the pandemic, is that telehealth is now more widely available, making it easier to get the help that is needed. Establishing positive conditions for learning will assist your student now and can help your family as a whole. We don’t know what the future holds, but by working together, we can help each other through it. The lessons children learn now, both academically and in life, can help them be stronger adults and give them the tools to succeed in life.
Taylor, Wendy “4 Strategies to Help Meet Your Child’s Social-Emotional Needs at Home” September 9, 2020 https://www.msn.com/en-us/lifestyle/parenting/4-strategies-to-help-meet-your-childs-social-emotional-needs-at-home/ar-BB18TMa3
Mosatafavi, Beata “How to Support Children’s Emotional, Educational Needs while Remote Learning” University of Michigan Health September 9, 2020 https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/childrens-health/how-to-support-childrens-emotional-educational-needs-while-remote-learning
American Institutes for Research “Building Positive Conditions for Learning at Home: Strategies and Resources for Families and Caregivers” April 7, 2020
Leeb RT, Bitsko RH, Radhakrishnan L, Martinez P, Njai R, Holland KM. Mental Health–Related Emergency Department Visits Among Children Aged <18 Years During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, January 1–October 17, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:1675–1680. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6945a3