Supporting Kids’ Mental/Emotional Health While Schools Are Closed
Whether we like it or not, schools are likely to stay closed for a while longer. Some states are considering implementing strict safety protocols when schools resume again. How will all this change affect students’ mental health?
Time (and more research) will tell. Fortunately, modern technology offers multiple platforms that can help K-12 students now and provide them with some much-needed support.
Signs Parents Should Look Out For
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies children as one of the social groups who could potentially be intensely affected by the stress of the global health crisis. It reports this is often because children feel limited in their capacity to effect change, which develops into a perceived lack of control that could lead to more anxiety, stress and depression. Zanonia Chiu, a registered clinical psychologist working with children and adolescents in Hong Kong, said that the widespread school closures, which have disrupted students’ daily routines, have further aggravated these negative feelings because kids no longer have something that provides them with a sense of normalcy.
Although children respond to stress and anxiety in their own unique ways, parents should watch out for certain changes in behavior. Some signs the CDC recommends parents look out for include:
• Excessive crying or irritation in younger children
• Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (for example, toileting accidents or bedwetting)
• Excessive worry or sadness
• Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
• Irritability and “acting out” behaviors in teens
• Poor school performance or avoiding school
• Difficulty with attention and concentration
• Avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past
• Unexplained headaches or body pain
• Use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs
Mental/Emotional Health Affects Learning. Period.
Children’s mental and emotional health is sometimes brushed aside as inconsequential to their academic outcomes. We’ve all heard that parent or even that teacher say, “Oh, get a grip. You’re not learning because you’re just not applying yourself.” The fact is: Children’s feelings and their ability to learn go hand in hand.
Based on a recent study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), students who reported severe mental distress were four times more likely to report low academic self-efficacy and twice as likely to report delayed study progress. Another study led by researchers from the University of Exeter found that children with mental health difficulties are more likely to experience exclusion at school, which in turn affects their reception and response to lessons.
Researchers at Maryville University explained that this connection between mental health and learning success is one of the reasons why there is a high demand for professionals who understand the connection between psychology and education. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that from 2018 to 2028, an estimated 23,800 jobs are likely to open up for school psychologists.
Are the Kids All Right?
According to the EdChoice Public Opinion Tracker, 53 percent of parents and 73 percent of teachers said they didn’t feel totally prepared for school closures and online learning. On the other hand, 38 percent of parents and 26 percent of teachers said they felt very prepared.
Though some students are more responsive to a traditional classroom setting because they are visual or auditory learners, others may thrive better in a non-traditional setup because they are kinesthetic, naturalistic or musical learners. This is likely one of the reasons why some kids experience better results while remote learning.
Aside from catering to the different learning styles of students, Elissa Strauss of CNN reported she learned from numerous interviews with parents that remote learning also allows children more control over their time, more hours of quality sleep, more opportunities for creative play, less social anxiety and less judgment and direction from adults. Additionally, Nora Fleming of Edutopia reported that reduced academic expectations have helped lighten academic pressure and eased the fear of failure, enabling school children to learn for the sake of learning and not rewards.
While these observations are great news, there are still many children who are far from thriving.
Some are simply not suited to distance learning because of their learning style or special needs. Worse, some are battling issues like food insecurity, unstable home lives, inequitable access to the technologies needed to e-learn and more. Undoubtedly, extended remote learning, uncertainty about the future and lack of access to mental health support will only exacerbate an already daunting situation for many children.
Tools That Can Help
Many school communities are coming together commendably to support children through these unprecedented times. Even so, parents could use some tools and strategies that can help their children cope with all this change and uncertainty. Here are a few worth considering.
Most parents of school children will recognize this one. With Zoom, educators can provide students with the social connection their craving right now through video conferencing that can accommodate up to 100 participants. As explained in our previous post, “Free Tools to Help Educators and Students Connect While Social Distancing,” Zoom’s intuitive and easy-to-use interface make it the perfect video conferencing tool for school children who miss their classmates and teachers.
The Mightier games were developed and tested at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. With this product, kids wear a heart rate monitor around their wrist that controls the difficulty of their game. The higher their heart rate, the more difficult the game gets. They can finally see what they are feeling and start to learn calming skills to stay focused and win the game.
Parents and educators might like to introduce child-friendly mental health apps, such as Dreamy Kid. Developed for kids ages 8+, this anxiety management app introduces strategies that help children meditate when faced with tough schoolwork and enable them to gain self-confidence.
The Zones of Regulation
Developed under the guidance of an occupational therapist, The Zones of Regulation helps children learn how to identify emotions and utilize different strategies to deal with them. The application cleverly combines the children’s love for games with important practices that forward mental well-being. Common Sense Education’s review of this app wrote that the accompanying book and curriculum will help teachers increase the effectiveness of the app even in a remote setting.