Mental health interventions in schools
Schools are finally open. But there was zeal and concern among educators alike about how this pandemic may have affected the social and emotional health of students and parents.
Transitions are never easy – physically, mentally, and emotionally, not for adults and most definitely not for young children. It is precisely for this reason that schools must now focus on the mental health of their students. We have never had the opportunity to work with children who are going through such a massive health crisis. It is imperative to be aware of the needs of our learners in order to support them. We need to help them wear masks while maintaining social distance from their friends, with drastically reduced screen time, new schedules and routines to follow, friendship and conflict management, among other potential stressors.
Here are some proven ways schools can better cater to students’ mental, emotional, and social needs:
Take it slow: As much as we want our students to settle in quickly, we know that giving them time to adjust, recalibrate, and orientate themselves is essential to their emotional wellbeing. As soon as the learners feel safe and comfortable in their new learning space, teaching and learning become more effective and successful.
Check in: One routine that we have to follow is our daily check-ins. These check-ins take place during our morning circle time and at the end of the day. This is the case when learners share their academic or personal feelings and concerns with their teachers and peers. This helps students know that they care about them, that they are not alone, and that they will always have a safe space to talk about their feelings and have them validated.
Create and follow routines: Children are creatures of habit too. When they have routines, be it at home or at school, they feel more secure and have more control over their mind and body. At this point, it would be advisable for schools to ensure uniform processes – especially meal and play times, designated pick-up or drop-off points and play areas.
Social and emotional learning (SEL): Help students identify stressors or triggers to regulate their emotions and provide strategies for resolving conflicts with their peers. Now, more than ever, it is time to embed SEL in everyday learning environments. Providing a “quiet corner” in the classroom, taking brain breaks and exercising mindfulness regularly are other ways to prioritize SEL.
Communicate with families: Just like school, families are essential to a child’s well-being. It is therefore important to keep the lines of communication between the two of them open. Each time a different relevant topic can be discussed, such as building self-employment, time management, dealing with school refusal, promoting children’s interests, to name just a few.
Getting back to campus can be overwhelming and with all of the planning and protocols schools have, there will still be plenty of trial and error. However, adopting a growth mindset during this transition is critical to helping us effectively support the mental and emotional health of our students.
(The author is a student advisor at a school)