These Are Overwhelming Times – We Need to Pay Attention to Our Kids’ Mental Health


Many schools have made the switch to virtual learning. This is a new world for teachers, many who are learning new technology and researching online teaching methods as they go. It’s also the first contact most of us have had with our students since they left our classrooms. It’s pretty clear they’re stressed about online learning also, missing their school routines and worried about the current state of the world. Here are some tips from licensed mental health counselor Eve Sturges on helping kids through the anxiety of this uncertain and overwhelming time. 

1. Acknowledge the elephant in the (chat)room

Sturges says acknowledging the current situation in age-appropriate language is helpful for everyone. “Pretending that everyone and everything is just fine because you want to remain smiling for children isn’t helpful right now. They know it isn’t real, and it confuses kids when adults don’t acknowledge big stressors.” Students left school several weeks ago thinking they’d be back after the weekend or spring break and the world flipped upside down. Acknowledge the weirdness. Talk about how strange doing school from home is and any challenges you’re already having or anticipate. It’s also appropriate to look for the silver lining – like more time with their pets and less stress getting ready in the morning.

Let students know things that are unknown can be scary and also exciting,” Sturges adds. 

2. Assign some calming routines

If your class is meeting as a group on Zoom or a similar platform, Sturges suggests adding a few minutes of quiet mindfulness to the beginning of your session. You can use a guided meditation app, like Calm or Headspace (free for educators). You can also find many options for free videos on Youtube. Take a few minutes to find a few age-appropriate and spend the first few minutes breathing and quieting your brains together. Even three to five minutes of mindfulness is shown to help kids relax and focus. 

If you aren’t meeting in person, email your students links to guided mindfulness videos on YouTube. Maybe ask them to create a log of how they feel after meditating. They can get creative with it and turn it into a chart, video presentation or journal. 

Sturges also says being playful is a great way to ease fear and uncertainty and release anxious energy. Play games in your class meetings. Give home assignments that encourage creativity, sensory exploration and connection, such as inventing a new board game, baking a recipe with or for their family or creating a model of their ideal classroom. 

3. Stay connected 

Weave routine and ritual in your online learning, even if you don’t meet for class virtually. For example:

  • Create a schedule for the school day and week. Stick to it as much as possible. Email it to students even if you don’t meet online and encourage them to follow it.  
  • Pose a question of the day, such as “What’s your favorite breakfast?”
  • Ask everyone to list three things they’re thankful for each day.
  • Assign photo projects that allow students to show their worlds, such as documenting a collection or a scavenger hunt around their yard or neighborhood.
  • Make assignments due on the same days of the week for consistency 
  • Have students make submissions for a weekly class newsletter (students can be in charge of the newsletter themselves at age-appropriate levels)

Sturges suggests showing your students snippets of your own life at home.

In three minutes you can talk about a feeling, what to do about it, and suggest one small activity for the day. And if you’re talking fast enough, you can include a knock-knock joke!”

This can be done during live sessions if you meet together or through recorded videos you post in the virtual classroom or email students. Sturges says this type of communication “reassures students you exist outside the framework of school, and you’re thinking of them too.”

4. Remind students to look for the helpers

Sturges says, “The Mr. Rogers’s quote about the helpers is always a winner. Help your students look for the helpers, and if they’re old enough, they can BE the helpers. ” 

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”  -Mr. Rogers

Give students assignments that focus on the good happening in the world right now. Facilitate ways for them to spread kindness. Can they write letters to a nursing home, play with younger siblings or make colorful signs for their windows? Looking for positivity and helping to spread it are great ways to ease anxiety.

5. Don’t minimalize students’ grief. 

Students are missing out on field trips, presentations, performances, competition, parties and more. They worked hard to prepare for these things and have been looking forward to them for months – or even years. It’s appropriate they are upset about these losses and need to grieve them. Acknowledge that it’s upsetting and that it’s okay to be mad or sad.  Reassure them the situation is temporary and they’ll have many good times again in the future, but don’t minimize their losses. 

This is an especially difficult time for high school seniors. “Don’t try to convince teenagers that missing prom, graduation or grad night is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. It may feel like the biggest deal of their life so far. Empathize with them. Promise them that some really awesome adventures await them after high school,” Sturgess says.  

6. Keep an eye out for red flags like you always have.

Sturges says anxiety is appropriate right now and that it might not be possible to make it go away on command. It’s important children know it’s okay and normal to be anxious. However, if a student seems to be struggling in a way that is limiting their ability to function it might be time to share your concerns with parents. It’s also important to continue following the proper protocol if you suspect abuse or neglect. Let students know they can email or message you if they have concerns. Teachers are the biggest advocates for our students, even if they aren’t physically parked in the same room with us each day. 

But really the best thing you can do to help your students through this stressful time is to take care of yourself. We’ve all been told “you need to put the oxygen mask on yourself first.” It really is true. We can’t be effective to anyone else if we burn out.

The next few weeks to months won’t be easy but we will get ourselves, our families, and our students through this. It’s just what we do.

Also Read:

These Are Overwhelming Times - We Need to Pay Attention to Our Kids' Mental Health

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Rachael Moshman
Rachael Moshman, M.Ed. is a mom, educator, writer, and advocate for self-confidence. She’s been a teacher in classrooms of infants through adult college students. She loves pizza, Netflix and yoga.
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