10 Ways to Help Students Cope With How COVID-19 Is Disrupting School Life

Lead Features April 20 / April 30, 2020

-Dr. Rosa Isiah with Vanessa Clark-

Our normal routines have been drastically altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. How can we help children deal with their fear and anxiety as well as manage our own wide range of emotions and concerns? How can we create some semblance of order in an emergency virtual classroom created in the midst of chaos?  Listen to the 11-minute discussion or read the transcript below.

 

Guest:

Vanessa Clark is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with experience working with children, adolescents, families, adults and older adults dealing with anxiety, depression and trauma. Her work has been a combination of outpatient behavioral health services in Long Beach, Santa Monica, Downtown LA and schools in Los Angeles County. Recently, she has worked with the K-5 student population at an Elementary School in Lawndale, CA with over 400 students. Her primary goal as a School Social Worker was addressing the social-emotional needs of students, parent education centered around social-emotional learning and linking families to appropriate resources to meet their individualized needs.

 

Transcript

Rosa:

I have a wonderful resource in store for you today. My friend, Vanessa Clark, licensed clinical social worker, amazing human being, and she is here to talk a little bit more about helping children cope with fear and anxiety during this really challenging COVID-19 time. Welcome, Vanessa. I have to share with everybody that Vanessa and I had a chance to work together. When I was a principal at Smith Elementary, she was a social worker and we worked to really create a whole child, whole community approach to teaching and learning, and we had wonderful success. So talking with you today, Vanessa, makes me miss that work and miss you a whole lot.

Vanessa:

Likewise, I can say the same for myself. Rosa, it was definitely a pleasure working with you and the collaborative approach that we had definitely worked to address all of the needs of the children that we serviced.

Rosa:

Absolutely. And right now, kids are feeling all sorts of things. Vanessa, what do you think are some of those emotions? What feelings may students be experiencing right now with COVID-19?

Vanessa:

Well, it’s definitely an unprecedented time that we’re living in where we’ve had to significantly modify our daily routine and structures. So students may be feeling anxiety. They may be feeling some excessive worry, stress, a lot of fear, frustration, sadness. I know with the students that I worked within the K through five the grade levels, a lot of their socialization was very important for them. Establishing those peer relationships, it’s crucial for their development during their formative years. So it’s difficult for them at this time to not be able to connect in person with their peers. Other things we may notice would be some irritability, some anger in some of the adolescents, restlessness and agitation. And you may also find that some students are really struggling with concentrating and having some difficulty sleeping. But despite how they are feeling, it’s important to normalize these feelings during the state of crisis that we’re going through so that children can understand that it’s okay to have these feelings and experience them.

Rosa:

And with children, Vanessa, we know that behavior is communication.

Vanessa:

Correct.

Rosa:

So how might children be expressing or communicating to parents that they’re feeling anxious or fearful?

Vanessa:

Well, absolutely. So for younger children, you may notice some regression in their toilet training. So they may have some experience where they’re bedwetting, a defiant and tantruming behaviors. Their behavior is their communication. So for the younger children, they may not be able to express how they are necessarily feeling, but you’ll definitely see it through behavior. For older children, you may notice an increase in somatic symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches. We tend to carry a lot of feelings of anxiety in our stomach. So you may notice an increase in appetite or changes in how they’re eating. Children and adolescents feel a greater sense of frustration in an inability to regain their social life. And this is where social connectedness is important with this generation. So although they may not be able to interact with their peers in person, you can definitely encourage them to interact online and make those social connections. Other things that you may notice too, is that they can begin to shut down, become disengaged, angry, defensive, and they will try to isolate themselves in an attempt to cope. So those are some examples that you might see and some of the behaviors and some of the warning signs that children may exhibit during this stressful time.

Rosa:

That can be really scary for parents. What would be a good response? I know when I was growing up, there was a lot of minimizing or denial that something may be wrong. But what can parents do? For example, I have a 12-year-old and if I’m noticing that she’s sleeping more or is isolating more, what are some recommendations for parents?

Vanessa:

Well, it’s definitely a scary time. Adults and children alike are feeling the same fear and concern, which is okay. We need to have those conversations with our children so that we can normalize those feelings and assure them that we’re trying to keep them safe. So if you do have your child asking you questions, you can definitely provide them with age-appropriate information so that they are informed, but you definitely don’t want to give too much information to the little ones. Maybe establishing some healthy hygiene habits that they can follow up with so that they can feel involved. You can also engage younger children in discussions on how to stop those germs. With adolescents, having in-depth conversations about COVID-19, starting with that factual information could be beneficial to helping them understand so that they can have a sense of control. Routine is vital as well. I know schools have been shut down for six days now, so you may to see more feelings and behaviors that I’ve previously discussed. But developing a routine, which would mirror as closely as possible to their school routine may be beneficial. And learning, in addition to the learning objectives that they have as part of their school curriculum, you’d want to have balance and having leisure activities. Involve your child in doing some chores around the house, putting in some positive reinforcements in place, especially for younger children to help promote some of that motivation and engagement. You can also have conversations with your children about what they’re feeling and what they feel is going on and exploring some of their thoughts and feelings about how it’s impacting their daily routine. Especially with your 12-year-old, exploring her thoughts. How are they able to identify and perceive their current state of crisis? How you can help them cope. Some ways in which you can foster a dialogue is through journaling, channeling some of those emotions through creative outlets such as arts, projects, or music. I know with the adolescents, they really love to listen to music. So maybe talking about some of their favorite songs, what those lyrics mean to them. And it’s important to really acknowledge your child’s feelings. Listen with empathy and validate their concerns because we are all living during a time where our normal routines have been drastically altered. Right?

Rosa:

Right, I think one of the hardest things to do is not feed into that fear. And sometimes when you’re the caregiver, when you’re the parent, the babysitter, it can be easy to fall into that trap with this constant flow of information and misinformation. And I really have found that trying to balance some fun activities, busy activities with some real talk and some structure has helped. What about the caregiver? What about that parent who’s feeling, “Okay, I’m really scared.” Any recommendations for them?

Vanessa:

Yeah. I mean, I think one of the first steps that you need to recognize is becoming aware of your fears and anxieties. We tend to project some of those feelings onto our children without realizing it. Children are very observant and they pick up on those feelings, which can be very triggering to how they react and respond. We’ve all flown before so we know that some of the safety measures that flight attendants do talk about is putting your oxygen mask on first. So we definitely want to be mindful about taking care of our own, becoming aware of our own stressors and anxieties, and to really start to develop a self-care plan that you can put into place so that you can learn to manage those feelings.

Some of the things that you might want to look for is things that you enjoy doing, maybe taking a walk, reading a book, watching your favorite movie or a comedy show online. For others, it could be having a family dinner, video chatting, face timing with friends and family and additional family members. But one of the most important practices, Rosa, that I find especially during these stressful times is engaging in some mindfulness and meditation practices. That can be definitely beneficial for not only yourself, but for the family even as well.

Rosa:

And there’s a variety of options. I love the response not only on social media but PBS, different folks are setting up resources for families to be able to channel that nervousness, that anxiety. Right?

Vanessa:

And some of those reinforces that we do have available online, one of my favorites is UCLA MARC, Mindfulness Awareness Research Center, and it provides free online guided meditations in English and in Spanish. It’s UCLA MARC, it’s spelled M-A-R-C. And once you’re able to look it up online, it will definitely lead you to the free online guided meditations in English and in Spanish.

Rosa:

That’s a great resource. We’re collectively dealing with such a range of emotions right now and it’s bringing out the best in us and also sometimes the not so great, right? So I think just these resources that you’ve shared today, Vanessa, will help us deal better and navigate some of that uncertainty and fear while we try to socially distance ourselves. Right? There’s a light at the end of the tunnel and I can’t wait to get to that light.






Editorial Leam
Editorial Team
This article was written by a collaboration of editors and columnists on the FLR editorial team or guest contributors.




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