Tag Archive for: mental health

If you’ve been feeling anxious, worried, stressed or upset about the war in Ukraine, chances are your students are too. Like many of us, kids may be struggling to make sense of what they are hearing from peers and what they are seeing on television and social media. 

Caregivers and educators play a key role in helping students navigate and cope through events such as war and civil unrest. Below you’ll find some key considerations and guidance to keep in mind, followed by resources from our partners at the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and a few more resources from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN)

  1. Like school safety education, keep explanations developmentally appropriate. Individual levels may vary due to unique developmental, cultural, educational, and psychological factors.
  2. Keep in mind that some students and their families may be more vulnerable. These groups include those with connections to Ukraine, those that are refugees or have experienced violent conflict/war, those who have a loved one in the military, those that have experienced traumatic events or loss, and those with a preexisting mental health condition. 
  3. Consider how media exposure can affect mental health. War coverage and its aftermath can be upsetting and graphic, and can trigger feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. Consider limiting media exposure, discussing healthy social media habits, and providing opportunities to discuss media coverage if appropriate.
  4. Provide reassurance, support, and reaffirm safety to help foster resilience. Begin by clearing up any misconceptions and misunderstandings. Remember to be patient and empathetic. It is critical that students are provided with a safe space for discussion as well tools and services to support social connectedness and resilience. 
  5. Practice self-care and be kind to yourself. Modeling self-care and optimism can play a significant role in a child’s wellbeing. Unfortunately, sometimes we forget to acknowledge and address our own needs. This can lead to stress and burnout. Adults are encouraged to seek support services and take care of their physical and mental health so they’re better equipped to support the students they care for.

As you navigate this ongoing crisis and continue to monitor student reactions and behavior, don’t forget to keep the lines of communication open between home and school so students are better served and supported. 


Resources by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)

Resources by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NSTSN)


Sources: National Association of School Psychologist (NASP), National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), How to Cope with Election Stress, Dr. Scott Poland, Helping Kids Through Tough Times: 7 Simple Steps, Dr. Stephen Sroka

 

 

While virtual learning has kept our school communities safe amid the coronavirus crisis, a new study points to the impact that remote instruction takes on students’ and their families’ mental health.

Virtual instruction may pose more risks to the mental health and wellness of children and parents than in-person learning, according to a study published Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More support may be needed to deal with the effects of the pandemic.

Parents whose children received virtual instruction or a combination of virtual and in-person instruction were more likely to report increased risk on 11 of 17 indicators of child and parental well-being, according to the new CDC study. The agency’s researchers looked at survey responses from October and November 2020 from 1,290 parents with children ages 5 to 12 years old.

Nearly 25% of parents whose children received virtual instruction or combined instruction reported worsened mental or emotional health in their children, compared to 16% of parents whose children received in-person instruction.

Read this full article in CBS News: CDC Study: Virtual School Can Be Damaging To Children’s Mental Health

The pandemic has put a strain on all of our school communities.  Public health measures have transformed the educational experience to protect our kids from the virus.  But amid virtual classes and isolation from peers, concerns are growing over a crisis that’s not so obvious- our students’ mental health.  

If you or a loved one need help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1(800)273-8255. For more information on suicide prevention, please visit Safe and Sound Schools’ resource library.

The sounds in her home can become unbearable some days. Heather Wendling will sometimes hear the footsteps of her sons walking in the dining room and think it’s her daughter. She will hear the front door creak when her husband comes home after work and wonder whether it’s her daughter. She will hear the phone ring and know it’s not her daughter, but perhaps another friend or volleyball parent calling to offer condolences or help.

When it all becomes too much, Wendling will sometimes head out to the backyard and sit on the swing set her daughter, London Bruns, used to play on as a little girl. “You can feel her energy there,” Wendling said, and when she is rocking back and forth, she wrestles with the questions of how London could have taken her own life at her home in Ridgefield, Wash., in the early morning hours of Sept. 21. She was 13 years old.

Read the full article: Washington Post: A Hidden Crisis

Additional Resources:

Teachers are utilizing grief training to help students bearing tremendous amounts of grief and trauma.

During a standard history lesson this year, a student in Alexandra Hinkson-Dutrevil’s fourth grade class spontaneously burst into tears and revealed that his young cousin, who lived with him, was on a ventilator after having contracted Covid-19.

The student then revealed to the class on Zoom that he and the rest of his family had to leave the home they shared with the cousin in Frederiksted on the U.S. Virgin Islands to quarantine and that he wasn’t sure he would ever return to his home or see his cousin again.

Under normal circumstances, Hinkson-Dutrevil would have taken the child aside or referred him to another staff member so she could continue her instruction. Instead, she let the student finish, abandoned her lesson and began a discussion allowing other students to discuss their emotions about the pandemic.

It was a strategy she learned in a grief training program for teachers that she took a few weeks previously.

Read this full article on NBC News: How grief training is helping educators manage pandemic-related trauma in schools

 

As Election Day approaches, Dr. Scott Poland answers questions for families on how to handle anxiety around politics.


How is election stress affecting not only parents and caregivers, but children?

There is considerable stress right now for parents and caregivers due to the pandemic, racial strife, and a contentious election. The result is many parents and caregivers are feeling overwhelmed and suffering from what we might term a low grade depression. One of the most significant factors for overall well-being is simply getting the proper amount of rest but that has been difficult in these recent months. I have responded to many traumatic situations that have affected children and one of the things that I think is very important is for children to be given permission for their own range of emotions and have opportunities to express those emotions if they wish through talking, writing, music, artwork or projects.

Children, especially younger ones take their cue from adults to see how upset to be about something. My thoughts are that younger children should generally not be included in lots of discussions about the election unless they asked to be. However, older students are likely to be very interested in understanding the election process and it may even be a part of their school assignments, for example, in a government class.

How can we approach political issues and other complex topics with our younger children?

I believe strongly with young children, we should provide opportunities for them to share their thoughts with us and it is often done the best when there is a shared activity such as playing a sport or baking a cake. The questions they ask should be answered developmentally in the way they understand. Adults are cautioned not to provide more information than the child is asking for at this particular time. Young children may have witnessed some of the election ads on television that have very strong messages that might be worrisome to them. In general it would be best for younger children not to view those election ads as many of them are filled with incorrect information provided in an overly dramatic manner.

One of the most significant factors to a child’s well-being is the modeling of coping and optimism from their parents and feeling like whatever is happening they are secure with their parents. This means that if we have strong feelings, reactions and worries related to the election we should share those with other adults in our life not with younger children. They should be assured that they will be cared for and safe at all times.

What is your advice for families that are grappling with political differences among friends and family?

There are very diverse opinions in families about the presidential election in particular. It is almost as if family members are existing in a different universe with regards to the information they receive and their belief about which candidate should be our president. I think all of us have a good sense of who we can have a reasonable, but spirited, discussion about politics with and what family members we cannot. If there are family members we cannot have a civil political conversation with then, it’s really as simple as, they’re in our family, and we love them, but do not agree with their political views and politics are simply not a subject we will be discussing with them.

What are some ways to help children deal with stress during these uncertain times?

All of us including children need self-care plans at this difficult time. Even small children are encouraged to draw out a self-care plan with pictures of themselves getting proper rest, eating healthy foods, getting exercise and doing nice things for others. One of the things that helps all of us deal with stress during difficult times is simply being that kind and compassionate person who does something nice for others. We should be grateful and acknowledge all the positive things that are going on in our life and not only focus on the stressors.

How can we prepare our kids for the results of the election?

It is not going to be helpful for us to spend valuable time with our families if we are moaning and complaining about the election results. The message to our children should be we are the United States of America and although many people appear to be far apart right now politically – America has always come together as a country. This is the time for parents and children to find those shared activities that they truly enjoy together and for parents to let children know they are cherished, loved and will be cared for and their parents will keep their world secure.


About the Author:

Dr. Scott Poland is a Licensed Psychologist, Nationally Certified School Psychologist, Professor at the College of Psychology and the Director of the Suicide and Violence Prevention Office at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Dr. Scott Poland is also the Past President of the National Association of School Psychologists and a part of the Safe and Sound Speakers Bureau. 

To book Dr. Scott Poland for a training, workshop, or keynote presentation, click here

 

It took four months to plan, write, field, analyze and prepare the final summary, but through the hard work of students and faculty from Boston University, in partnership with our team, we are excited to share this report with you.

We can boil down the results of the State of School Safety 2020 survey and report to this: we are headed in the right direction.

When we first set out to report on the state of school safety in 2018, the world was a different place. In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, educators were grappling with safety threats but lacked resources, parents were hungry for details about plans, and students demanded to be heard. Communication about school safety was sparse, and parents and students were not confident in their schools’ safety preparedness.

In 2019, the State of School Safety report showed a continued disconnect among stakeholders about school safety. Educators felt more prepared than students and parents. Students still felt they did not have a voice in school safety decision making, and parents and students sought increased communication about plans and protocols. Parents and students were unsure how to access mental health experts in their schools. However,educators and parents both felt a sense of optimism that schools have the expertise to improve school safety, and educators showed a deeper understanding of the role mental health plays in school safety.
Results of the State of School Safety 2020 report indicate we have come a long way in three years. Not only have we increased understanding among all stakeholder groups, we have fostered a more proactive culture of comprehensive school safety awareness and saw educators enhance the safety of their schools through easily accessible improvements. While we love seeing the impact of our work, there is still much more to do.

As you dive into the report, you will see we delivered it to you in a more visual format, which we hope will make it more accessible to all members of your community. We also divided the results across our framework for comprehensive school safety, making it easier for you to parse out feedback for various members of your safety team.

The strides we’ve taken are worth recognizing, but we must stay vigilant in our cause – school safety is not an item you can ever cross off your to-do list. The more we learn and as threats continue to evolve, we must stay alert, committed, and invest in all areas of school safety.

With the recent onset of Covid-19 both nationwide and globally, anxiety is on the rise. With so many unknowns, how do we help our kids navigate a new normal and keep their anxiety in check?

Here are a few tips that you may find helpful:

  • Know the signs of anxiety. When kids feel that they are out of control of their surroundings and their situations they may misbehave, have trouble sleeping, experience shortness of breath, and ask the same questions over and over again – in hopes of getting consistent answers.  They might also appear to have a lack of focus, experience cold sweats, dizziness, nausea, feelings of panic and even irregular heartbeats.
  • Teach your child to practice mindful breathing. Kids and adults tend to hold their breath or “breathe shallow” when they get uptight or feel scared.
  • Limit screen time and highlight offscreen accomplishments. Build confidence and positivity through activity!
  • Be sure you and your child are getting adequate sleep. Poor sleep can lead to irritability, increased anxiety and increased depression.
  • Be the person your child trust and can talk to. Every human relationship revolves around two things: trust and communication.  Be appropriately truthful with your child. If you are asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, it’s ok to say, “I don’t know how to answer that question, but let me find out and we can talk about it later.”
  • Talk to your child about their feelings. Identifying feelings is an important first step for understanding their emotions. Though children experience feelings, understanding their emotions can be difficult.  A feelings chart can help parents help their child connect an abstract concept (feelings) with a concrete visualization (chart).  Check out the printable “Feelings Chart” Julia developed with Safe and Sound Schools here.
  • Listen to your child’s perceptions and gently correct misinformation. It’s always a good idea to listen to and understand your child’s perceptions before you tell them what you want them to know. This way you do not risk introducing new worries or information that your child is not ready to absorb.
  • Genuinely accept your child’s concerns. Every child needs to be seen, heard, and feel validated.  Listen carefully and validate what your child is saying. You might say, “I can only imagine how you must be feeling. Let’s talk through what’s in your head and we’ll work together to try to make some sense out of all of this.”
  • Focus on the CAN-Do’s and the GET-To’s. Nobody likes to be told what they have to do, but we all like to be told what we get to do. Even though our choices might be more limited than ever, we still have choices—and that can be empowering.
  • Limit your child’s media exposure – and yours too! It is very important to stay informed, but over-watching interferes with cognitive balance and coping abilities.
  • Establish a predictable routine at home and follow it. The inability to predict what might happen and feeling out of control of a situation can fuel anxiety.  Work with your children to establish a predictable routine at home.  The more involved your kids are in establishing the routine, the better!
  • Set expectations—and consequences. Don’t confuse anxiety with other types of inappropriate behavior.  Set limits and consequences so that you don’t allow anxiety to enable your child.
  • Do everything you can to NOT pass your fears onto your child. People are like snowflakes – we are all unique.  Every person deals with anxiety differently. Keep in mind–although you are your child’s expert, you are not your child.  Just because you feel a certain way, does not mean your child will feel the same way.
  • Designate a DAILY fun time that kids can anticipate and plan for. Planning for and looking forward to a “positive feeling” event is a great way to counteract the unsettling feelings of anxiety.

We are all currently sailing in uncharted territory with so many things to worry about. Now more than ever, it is important for you and your child to remember that together, we are strong!


Julia Cook
National Award-Winning Children’s Author/ Parenting Expert
www.juliacookonline.com

 

 

Remembering Red Lake: Missy Dodds, Former Teacher and Survivor of the Red Lake High School Tragedy, Remembers 3.21.05

This past week has been a roller coaster. On Monday, I sent my kids to school. By Wednesday, they were home–likely for the rest of the school year. When I picked them up from school on Tuesday, I was sad. I empathized with the teachers and staff as they said goodbye to their students, not knowing when they might see them again. My heart hurt for teachers who did not get to finish the school year as they had planned. My eyes welled with tears as I heard my own kids say to their friends, “See you in eight days.” I have not found the guts to tell my kids it will be longer than eight days.

My heart truly hurts for all teachers, students, and families as schools shut down across America. I know the feeling of “losing school.” It’s not easy when the place that is the center of your world –school– is ripped away without any notice. It’s painful and unfair.

Fifteen years ago this week, Monday, March 21, 2005, my world was ripped apart. A former student shot his way into my classroom at Red Lake High School. He killed five of my students and a co-worker, wounded four students, and left the rest of us with scars yet to heal. I know the feelings of having one’s world shattered in seconds. We “lost school” as we knew it.

Fifteen years later; we, the survivors and the community, are still adjusting to our new normal. We are walking a path never imagined.

The same is true for students and teachers across the country today.

I have found myself struggling with the same questions this week as I have the past 15 years: Who? How? Why? What? When? In today’s COVID-19 crisis, the answers can be framed with science. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of a school shooting, the answers are not as simple. Like many mass shooters, my former student fell through the cracks. This does not excuse his actions. Instead, it reveals that mental health is a huge component in school safety. The significance of mental health in schools can no longer be overlooked.

I see this as my own kids adjust to their new normal right now. I see the impact of “losing school” on their mental health. I see frustration and anger in my 1 st graders. The center of their world is gone for now. I see my 3 rd grader struggle with the loss of her social community. I see how my children’s mental health depends on school.

If there is anything we have learned as a nation this week, it is the importance of schools. Our schools are the heart and soul of our communities. They provide far more than education to our children. They provide food, friends, structure, and purpose. Our schools support our families. Our schools are the pillars of our communities.

Today’s COVID-19 closures are temporary. Normal school life will resume. When it does, I ask you to remember and advocate for the mental health supports that our schools provide. Please support your school’s mental health programming, staffing, and advocacy for all students. Like me, and like my Red Lake school community, all too many others know how mental health matters. When it comes to the safety of our schools and communities, our ability to meet the mental needs of our students and families can make all the difference.


Missy Dodds is a former high school math teacher and school safety advocate. She is a survivor of the Red Lake High School shooting. Missy serves as a National Parent Ambassador for Safe and Sound Schools. Her email is missydoddsparentcouncil@gmail.com and her Twitter @DoddsMissy