Social-Emotional Learning Supports

By Eva M. Bishop, M.Ed., School Counselor 

I often find that my personal life acts as a “mirror” of sorts when working with students and families as a School Counselor.  My family is made up of three boys that represent a wide range of ages, personality types, talents, weaknesses and so on.  During the pandemic known as COVID-19 it has been both inspiring, and at times, exasperating, to watch the affect that our “new normal” has had on each of them.  The oldest, my introvert, happily just finished his Senior year in college at home, in the comfort of his bedroom; the middle guy, a junior in high school, whom I would categorize as a “social-loner,” has done well on his own for long stretches and then suddenly, desperately, craves companionship; then, we have the youngest, our truest of true, middle school aged, extrovert.  He recently made the statement, while in total meltdown mode, “I wish I was back at school, wishing I wasn’t at school!!”  You won’t find a greater mix of thoughts, feelings and experiences than these three.

So, just as I’m constantly reshaping and reframing how I help each one of my own boys navigate their new worlds, I also find myself adjusting how I guide and assist my kids from school. Distance learning hasn’t changed our need to modify, it has only reinforced it. When supporting the social/emotional needs of students, we must be sure to diversify activities and outlets used, making sure they help us meet the needs of ALL.  No matter what their personal struggle with learning at home may be, or how the struggle manifests itself, we as educators, parents, and guardians, must be ready to pivot.

Whether kids need a tremendous amount of social/emotional activities to help them stay connected, motivated and focused, or whether they need little to none, there are plenty of ways for stakeholders to facilitate making this happen for them. These same activities can help meet the mental health needs of students by allowing them the time and platforms to be heard and to express themselves. The following are examples I’ve shared with teachers and parents about how kids can support other kids during this time of learning at home:

  • Padlet prompts: a great way for students to share responses to a specific question (i.e. “If you could teleport yourself back to school, what would you do when you got there?”) or, share shout outs/encouraging words with friends.  Be sure that the questions for response are open-ended (the key is to ask questions that require thought and reflection; more than just a “yes” or “no”). Cool backgrounds and kid-friendly graphics and pictures help make this an engaging way for kids to communicate safely with each other. Learn more here at: www.padlet.com
  • Online art shows:  choose a theme for students to draw/create other forms of art to share online with their peers (also easily done on Padlet). This is a great one for students to explore specific emotions/feelings/thoughts they may be struggling with.  Pictures can often help express the verbally inexpressible ideas of disappointment, sadness, frustration, etc. This activity can be easily initiated by saying, “Show me how you are feeling.”
  • Old fashion pen pals (depending on age, pals may need to be set up by like gender): get out paper and pen and write to an assigned buddy about things they are experiencing, feelings about being out of school, things they miss; also, be sure to suggest students ask a couple of questions in their letter to help in the response of their pen pal.
  • Online book clubs:  have students choose from a list of books that they can all vote for one to read.  Set up online meetings for them to meet and discuss the assigned reading each week.  Books that are age appropriate and with themes about community, courage, and perseverance would be great for the current world situation.
  • Collaborative videos: themes such as a talent show, show and tell, etc. can be a collaborative effort through safe and easy to use online programs such as “wevideo.” Sometimes, it all just needs to be about having fun.  Letting loose and releasing endorphins. Themed videos are a great way for kids to collaborate and connect! 

A final tip as you facilitate these activities…participate, listen, and engage. Your presence in the process is one of the most powerful predictors of success as your student navigates their “new normal.”

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How to Get Off the Struggle Bus at the Next Stop

By Hollie Gomez, MSW, LCSW, School Social Worker

Mental Health is a term those of us in the profession are used to throwing around. Mental Health is the foundation for what we are trying to achieve with the work that we do. For others, the term “Mental Health” may seem unfamiliar or a bit too technical and cold to describe or categorize ourselves. Your loved ones may not call on the phone and ask “how was your mental health today?”. Nonetheless, that is the critical question right now, amidst the COVID-19 Global Pandemic we are all facing.

Mental Health refers to our cognitive, behavioral, and emotional well-being. How we think and feel in response to stress impacts how we cope, or act. We can cope well or not so well. We can fluctuate on a continuum of healthy to not-so-healthy to downright bad coping. As humans, we all experience problems and we are all on a journey of learning how to cope well as consistently as possible, despite our circumstances and differences. Struggles in mental affect all of us at one point or another. Basically, we are all in this together!  It is possible for everyone to achieve better mental health and parents can support good mental health at home in both ourselves and our children.

If you are like me, one day you had a routine and were managing life’s challenges and suddenly life changed. As a parent and a school employee, I was faced in the course of a few days with being ordered to shelter-in-place and work from home, as well as facilitate what I would call a robust eLearning curriculum for my two elementary aged children. At this point, my family boarded the Struggle Bus as we call it. The Urban Dictionary defines “Struggle Bus” as a challenging situation or experience and I think now is as good of a time as any to employ the terminology! As a School Social Worker, I am keenly aware of how families face challenges in many different ways, but there are several common themes I have noted as I have talked with families adjusting to a new way of doing life.

First off, I’d like to note that in times of crisis, our feelings have a tendency to become bigger. We may notice we are easily agitated, frustrated, and overwhelmed and our interactions with our family members may be shorter and conflictual. It is important to remember that just as we are struggling with an array of emotions, our children are as well. Young children need you to help them name their feelings. What we typically may call “misbehavior” or “disrespect” may really be poor coping to feelings of fear, confusion, loneliness, grief from missing friends and teachers, being overwhelmed by all the change and new demands, or just plain boredom! Parents can have conversations with children about what they are feeling and offer healthier ways of dealing with those feelings, being clear about behavioral expectations. We also have learned as parents about the relationship between tears and tantrums and food and sleep. We never really outgrow this. Nothing helps ease big feelings like a nutritious snack or a nap. I recommend snacks and naps for adults and children!

Secondly, I’d like to note that a huge part of what makes our children feel safe and secure is STRUCTURE! There are a few simple ways we can incorporate structure back into our kids’ lives.  If your children are home with you, one idea is to have your child wake up in the morning at the same time each day, get dressed and make up their sleeping space. Making a bed starts the day with one job well done and can motivate them to move onto the next task. Also, setting up a consistent work space with items they will need and getting started on time will set the expectation that learning is the task at hand. Keep breaks, snacks and meal times at the same time each day and protect your “me-time” by establishing a consistent bedtime routine. If your children are with caretakers, discuss the plan and need for a structured daily routine ahead of time. With so much we cannot predict right now, if our children know what “comes next” in the day they will feel more secure.

Thirdly, let’s talk about something a bit more fun. Right now, what children crave is to be a child! We only get one childhood and we all want our children to look back and remember their childhood as a positive experience. One way we can achieve this goal is to be “memory crafters”. Crafting memories means sprinkling a bit of fun and humor into each day. Memory crafting does not need to cost a dime! Some of our favorite activities are drawing superheroes and giving them a story, gardening or pulling weeds, lip-synch battles, game nights, taking walks/bike rides, baking cookies, or having a movie night complete with popcorn and lights out. We also like to “phone a friend or family member” to help stay connected or play on-line games with friends. I’ve heard about friends having backyard camp-outs, or spending time together giving back in some way like sewing masks together.  Whatever your children enjoy doing with you…make some time for it if at all possible! Just 15 minutes can do the trick. These memories may even be some of the best times your child will remember.

Also, I’d like to talk about modeling. Our children look to us and other adults to decide how they want to act and who they want to be in life. Right now, in the midst of this crisis we have a great opportunity to teach our children how to “do challenges right”. People with good mental health have learned what I call the secret to joy and it is simply gratitude!  Thinking about gratitude in the midst of so much loss may seem strange; however, when we spend time talking about what we do have instead of what we don’t, we are actually training our brains to be more content. Scientifically, our brains are creating new neural pathways and a lot of research exists if you want to delve further.
We can also model acceptance, or the idea of giving up control over what we can’t change and focusing instead on what we can. For example, “I can fill out this job application, I can apply for these benefits, I can contact my bank to discuss a plan, I can pick up mobile meals from the bus stop, I can disinfect these door handles, I can wear a mask, I can contact my child’s school and ask for help”. When we ask for help, we are giving our children permission to do the same! It’s important to remember that when we allow others to help us, they are receiving a blessing too! The old adage is true! It is better to give than receive and we don’t want to” rob others of their blessing” in being able to help or give.

Another important consideration is how much media exposure we have. Some professionals recommend picking one or two trusted media sites or sources and allowing two times a day where you allow yourself to “watch the news”. We also can limit what media we expose our children to, noting that a lot of information is not developmentally appropriate for our younger children. We can ask our children what they know and how they feel about the information they share. We can dispel wrong information and make sure they have a few simple facts about why life is so different right now. By answering our children’s questions with reassuring messages of how we are keeping them safe, we can help keep anxieties at bay.

Life is definitely full of peaks and valleys. Often times it is in the valleys where we develop character, use our talents, and create bonds with one another. The valleys also help us evaluate our priorities and occasionally force our hand in making changes or decisions we have been considering for a long time. The valleys show us what it’s like to experience different types of hardship so we can have empathy for others. They provide us opportunities to help others. They teach us how to cope and to pay attention to our own mental health. I encourage you to think about other ways you can support mental health at home and share your ideas with others! Remember, we are all riding the Struggle Bus right now, but we can help each other get off at the next stop!

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Intentionally Sharpening Kids’ Social-Emotional Skills

By Chrissy Sergiacomi, School Counselor 

Today’s guest blogger is the school counselor at Sherwood Forest Elementary School, Chrissy Sergiacomi. As we continue to focus on social-emotional learning, Chrissy shares information on why it is so important for kids to learn these skills and several practical activities that parents/guardians can use to teach these skills at home. 

I have always told my young children that I believe the most important thing in life is to be kind.   Maybe that philosophy is why I became a school counselor.  I had a student once introduce me to a new classmate as “This is the lady who teaches us how to be good people.”  I think it’s the best job description I’ve ever heard!  Because the truth is, we have to teach our kids to be good people.  Social-emotional life skills are critical, and their teaching needs to be intentional.  If we teach our kids Calculus, history, poetry. . .none of it is useful if they can’t manage their own emotions.

The activities below are just examples of things you can add to your social-emotional toolbox at home.  One caveat. . .don’t try these when your kids are in the middle of an emotional meltdown!  These are activities to teach and practice when your children are calm, and then you can gently remind them to use the pre-learned skills when they need them.

  • Journaling with a twist:  This activity is great for older kids who are confident with writing or for any age kids who enjoy drawing.  Your child needs a notebook where they can write and/or draw daily.  It’s helpful if the whole family takes 5-10 minutes daily to pause, giving the child a scheduled opportunity for journaling.  The journal belongs to the child and is private.  However, if the child wants to share something with a parent, they turn down that particular page and place the journal in a pre-determined location (like a coffee table).  The parent can then read that part of the journal only and can write a message back to the child.  This is a great strategy for students who are uncomfortable talking about their feelings directly but need some form of self-expression.  
  • Mindful Coloring:  Challenge your child to color pictures with lots of details, taking time to color each individual section while they practice breathing in and out.  Check out these sites where you can find mindful coloring examples:   Mandalas to color online  Mandalas to print and color
  • Feelings heart and GoNoodle:  This activity combines feelings identification with short online exercises that correspond with the feeling the child identifies. Children choose a feeling on the  Feelings Heart, click on it and they are directed to multiple GoNoodle online activities to help them practice coping with that feeling.  If those particular activities don’t seem applicable, you may need to have a discussion about whether the child has identified their feeling correctly.   This helps increase feelings vocabulary and gives kids go-to activities for self-regulation.
  • Read alouds: For younger children, reading a book aloud and discussing its’ social-emotional message can be powerful.  This list of Read Aloud books for Social-Emotional Topics is an excellent resource to start building your social-emotional library!  
  • Size of the problem/reaction:   By teaching students to identify the size of their problem, we can help them understand that it’s important to match our reaction to the size of our problem.  When we overreact or underreact we make others uncomfortable and we typically don’t end up solving our problem.  By using this free downloadable graphic Size of problem and reaction downloadable visual you can help your child identify the size of their problem and whether it matches the size of their reaction.  If it doesn’t match, then you’ll need to discuss what a more appropriate reaction would be.  
  • Glitter jar:  This is one of my favorite calm down tools ever.  Kids love to make them and they can be calming even for adults.  There are many different ways to make the jars, but this is one example:  Glitter jar instructions  The idea is that when you shake the jar the glitter swirls around making the water cloudy, just like your mind gets cloudy when you are nervous, angry, sad, etc.  If you keep the jar still, the glitter will settle and the water will become clear again.  Children watch the glitter as it settles to the bottom of the jar, taking deep breaths and calming their minds just as the jar is “calming down”.  
  • Deep breathing:  I like to teach kids lots of different ways to take deep breaths and let them choose which way they like the best.  Every way has the same physiological results, your breath slows down, which slows down your heart rate, which tells your body it isn’t in danger, and the prefrontal cortex goes back to work making good decisions.  These websites have excellent printable visuals kids can use for deep breathing exercises:  Using shapes to teach deep breathing  Printable breathing cards for kids  Mindful breathing activities for kids and teens  You can model these for your child and then you can each choose your favorite ones.
  • Practicing Gratitude:  Gratitude is one of the biggest predictors of happiness.  Help your children engage in acts of gratitude during this difficult time.  Sometimes helping others is the best way to help ourselves.  You can simply keep an individual or family gratitude journal where you choose several things at the end of each day that you’re grateful for.  You can also actively practice gratitude with activities like these:  Loving letters campaign   Gratitude gifts    Kindness rocks

I hope that you will find an activity here that makes sense for your family and that you can easily incorporate into your home routine.  It’s likely you’re with your kids more than ever right now,  but remember that having presence and being present are not the same.  In these overwhelming times, take a moment to be intentionally present with your children.  Use that time to help them become the amazing little humans you know they’re meant to be.

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Reading with Celebrities

During the pandemic, celebrities have used social media to raise awareness and money for many causes. They have also used their platforms to read children’s books. We are highlighting and sharing information about ways you can watch and hear your favorite celebrities reading.

Save With Stories

Celebrity: Various
Where: Instagram
When: Anytime

Are you a fan of Russell Wilson? How about Terry Crews, Kerry Washington, Mindy Kaling, Kamala Harris, and JJ Watt? Check out these celebs, athletes, actresses, and politicians reading their favorite children’s books on Instagram. You can see your favorite celebs read by following the Instagram account “Save With Stories.”

Goodnight with Dolly 

Celebrity: Dolly Parton
Where: Facebook and YouTube
When: Thursday nights at 7:00 pm EST

“Goodnight with Dolly” is a 10 week program that features Dolly Parton reading books from her Imagination Library. Dolly reads titles that include “Llamma Llamma Red Pajama,” and “ The Little Engine That Could.” You can catch Dolly reading Thursday nights on Facebook. If you miss it, you can catch her readings anytime on her YouTube channel.

Storyline Online

Celebrity: Various
Where: StorylineOnline.net and YouTube
When: Anytime

Storyline Online is supported and sponsored by The Screen Actors Guild Foundation-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). Celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Wanda Sykes, and Betty White read various children’s books. The videos also include illustrations. Readers can access the stories anytime on Storyline Online and YouTube.

Harry Potter Readings 

Celebrity: Daniel Radcliff and more
Where: Wizardingworld.com
When: Ongoing

Wizards. Qudditch. Hogwarts. And More. If you love Harry Potter, this series is for you! Daniel Radcliff and others will be reading chapters of the Harry Potter series. Join the Harry Potter Fan Club (for free) and you are all set!

Julie’s Library 

Celebrity: Julie Andrews
Where: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Julieslibraryshow.org
When: New episodes every Wednesday

Actress Julia Andrews and her daughter, Emma, hand select children’s books and read them every Wednesday. You can hear Julie and Emma read wherever you subscribe to Podcasts. Don’t have access to Podcasts? You can also hear them read at Julie’s Library Show.

Did we miss your favorite athlete or celebrity? Let us know by tweeting at us (@schoolpsychws).

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Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) in the Classroom

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year. Since so many youth are impacted, teachers often provide not only educational instruction, but also skills in social-emotional learning. During this time of quarantine, our parents have taken on the role of teachers, so we have invited one of our very own teachers to explain how to support the social and emotional needs in the classroom. Thanks to Emily Fedel of Brunson Elementary for this helpful information.  
Teaching at Brunson Elementary School challenged me to think more broadly about helping kids learn social emotional skills, and taught me to incorporate them into daily lessons. When I taught third grade in a general education classroom, we identified one or two habits of character that kids would need to practice for an assignment and incorporated them into our daily learning targets. For instance, if they were working on a research essay, they needed to practice both craftsmanship and perseverance. Then, when we explained the directions for the assignment, we discussed those habits of character and how to practice them throughout the assignment. As they worked on it, we gave feedback to students on their academic progress as well as their progress in practicing those habits of character. This allowed students to dive into the meaning of the habits of character and apply them to real life situations. 
How we, as teachers, respond to our students who are experiencing strong emotions contributes to the culture of the classroom and school, but also impacts students who may be dealing with mental health illness. Training myself to respond thoughtfully and with a growth mindset to discipline situations or other daily crises helped students to feel safe and loved when they experience big emotions. At Brunson, we have a recovery space in every classroom. Students can elect to visit that space in the classroom if they are working through big emotions. These recovery spaces are differentiated to each grade level and include many tools like optional reflection sheets, calming bottles, posters of emotions, and fidgets or other small objects that help students to practice mindfulness. The purpose of recovery is for students to process through emotions they are experiencing and then return to the academic task at hand. They always have the option to talk with a teacher or other adult later to solve the problem. 
Social emotional learning is very easy to incorporate into teaching throughout the day if the teacher has the right mindset. At Brunson, we believe that students need to be taught social emotional skills in order to be successful students and future citizens so we set aside 40 minutes two times per week for CREW. CREW is a fun space in which students work in small groups to learn and practice our habits of character, complete service projects together, and help each other set and track goals for academic progress. This provides real life application of social emotional skills. Students are assigned a CREW at the beginning of the year and there is a consistent adult who facilitates the lessons weekly. It is a safe space in a smaller setting that allows students to get to know each other deeply and be able to support each other throughout the year. 
Since I changed positions to teach in a Social Behavior Support (EC) classroom, I have tried to take everything that I learned from the training I received at Brunson and incorporate it into our daily schedule. I teach social skills daily and I structure it very similarly to CREW. We always sit or stand in a circle to practice equity and we begin with a greeting before the lesson. I have incorporated several curriculums into our social skills lessons like zones of regulation, social thinking, and superflex. We play games or complete activities to practice these developing skills throughout the week. Interacting in this way allows my students to practice social emotional skills in a fun way to deepen their understanding. 
Emily Fedel graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University with a degree in Exceptional Student Education and Elementary Education. During her 8 years of experience, she has experience teaching first grade, third grade, students with Autism, and students with emotional disabilities. She has both her Autism endorsement and ESOL endorsement and has taught in Florida and North Carolina. Her passion for helping kids fall in love with learning drove her desire to become a teacher and she loves teaching kids who challenge her to think out of the box. When she is not teaching, Emily loves to be outdoors hiking and exploring nature with her husband Matthew, and daughter Nora. 
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Keeping Your Child Motivated to Learn

By Angela Fernandez, WS/FCS School Psychologist Intern 

The announcement has been made and students will not be returning to traditional learning until some time next school year. Until then, e-learning continues! With the extended period of e-learning, you might be wondering how you will be able to keep your child motivated and engaged in learning. Here are some suggestions that are useful in keeping things interesting for your child.

1. Encourage learning in nontraditional ways.

Sometimes the best learning happens when we don’t even realize we are learning! This holds true for our kids, too. Instead of sitting at a desk, try learning outside. Whether you are focusing on traditional learning material, or you are learning about nature, switching up the environment is a great way to keep things interesting!

2. Let your child control the direction of their learning when possible.

If a child feels like they are being forced to do something, you may be met with resistance, it is natural! Let your child provide input on things that they do/do not find interesting. You will learn about your child’s preferences while also letting them feel heard. Provide choices whenever possible. When children have choices, they feel in control. When they feel like they are in control and have options to choose from, they will be more likely to remain engaged and be motivated to complete the task ahead. Giving your child a sense of control does not mean that you will be losing your own power or control. As the child’s parent/educator, you will be setting guidelines and creating predetermined choices for your child to choose from.

3. Listen to your child’s concerns/opinions.

We are all learning to adjust during these times. This uncertainty is not only stressful for adults, but children, too! Their “normal world” has been turned upside down. Things are changing every day! Allow your child to discuss concerns and opinions openly with you, free of judgement. Even if you disagree, listen to what your child is telling you. These conversations can provide you with insight on your child’s feelings and will create an environment that feels like a safe zone to them. Your child is trying to navigate and adjust to this new learning environment. The uncertainty may cause feelings of hopelessness which can impact your child’s motivation. Listen carefully for these feelings and provide reassurance. Point out the good in every day and keep reminding them of things to look forward to in the future. If you are concerned about your child’s emotional well-being, please contact your school psychologist, school counselor, or school social worker for assistance in locating services.

4. Focus on your child’s interests.

Your child will be more engaged in learning if what they are learning about is relevant to them. Be creative and find ways to incorporate the things that your child feels drawn to. Maybe your child finds math boring but loves science. Can you think of ways to disguise your math lesson as a science lesson? Maybe your child likes art but does not enjoy reading. Try having your child draw a picture depicting what happens in the story! Perhaps your child does not enjoy learning how to count money but loves getting ice cream. Well, in order to get ice cream, you need money. You see where I am going with this!

5. Be excited about learning and exploring new information.

If you are enthusiastic about what your child is learning, they will feel that energy. Your child will be more likely to be excited if they can tell that you are too. When you show enthusiasm, doing schoolwork/lessons will feel less like work and more like fun! Try incorporating game-based learning a couple of times per week. Get creative and make up a challenge or game around what your child is learning. It is a great way to have fun and practice skills at the same time!

6. Teach your child how to be organized.

I do not know about you but if I feel disorganized, I feel extremely overwhelmed! Sometimes kids feel the same way. Feeling overwhelmed can have a direct impact on someone’s motivation and productivity. Help your child stay organized to avoid feelings of being overwhelmed. Try designating “time slots” for learning. If a child is unsure how long they will be asked to complete work or learn, they may feel anxious or overwhelmed. Predictability is your (and your child’s) friend here! Checklists, to-do lists, and visual schedules are great, simple ways to stay organized, on track, have a sense of predictability, and promote feelings of accomplishment.

7.       Praise your child for his/her accomplishments.

When your child feels accomplished, self-esteem will increase, and they will be more likely to attempt and persist on difficult tasks in the future. You may also wish to try incorporating a reward system. It is a great way to keep your child motivated. First, find out what motivates your child. Is it a sweet treat? Extra TV time? Rewards do not always have to be tangible. For some kids, especially younger ones, social praise and positive attention is enough to make them feel great! When you have determined what motivates your child, work towards that reward together. You are a team and will win together (fun)! If your child appears to be losing interest, remind them what they are working for. It is helpful to switch the reward up, that way it continues to be exciting and motivating.

8. Lastly, try to keep your expectations reasonable.

We are all currently experiencing a world crisis. For many of us, this is the first time we have felt this level of uncertainty. Keep your expectations reasonable for not only your child, but for yourself too! Our brains are focused on survival right now and may not always be 100% available to concentrate. That is okay. Be forgiving of yourself and of your child. We are all in this together!

You can text TalkWithUs to 66746 or call 1-800-985-5990 to reach the Disaster Distress Hotline.
They provide counseling and crisis support for anyone in the U.S. experiencing distress or other behavioral health concerns.

Los hispano hablantes pueden llamar a la línea directa y oprima “2” para recibir asistencia en español las 24 horas, los 7 días de la semana o envié un texto con el mensaje “HABLANOS” al 66746.
Deaf/Hard of Hearing – TTY 1-800-846-8517 or can text TalkWithUs to 66746

If you would like more information, it can be found at: https://www.educationcorner.com/motivating-your-child-to-learn.html

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month

As we launch into May during a global pandemic, it is more important than ever to check on your people. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention encourages us to have a #RealConvo with the people in our lives. Although that may look different this year than it has in the past, they offer tools, resources and creative ways to do this. They also a provide a calendar of activities happening throughout the month.

Here are some quick tips for having a #RealConvo about mental health:

  • When someone is struggling, just listen.
  • Let the other person share at their own speed.
  • Don’t pass judgement or offer advice; just be there.
  • We all experience mental health differently, and that’s okay.
  • Check back in and offer to connect them with help if they need it.
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Coping with Corona

Wake Forest University associate professor of Psychology, Christian Waugh, is an expert on coping. To help others through this challenging time, he has created a YouTube series titled “Coping with Corona.” His videos feature research and information on resilience, coping, distraction vs avoidance, and the brain.

Professor Waugh says research shows those who are most successful at coping during stressful times experience both positive and negative emotions. During these times, it is easy to focus on reducing our anxiety. However, a little fear and anxiety can actually keep us safe. Working to increase our positive emotions and experiences is important to helping us cope. You can increase positive emotions by reframing negative events,  identifying things you are grateful for, and completing acts of kindness. To learn more about Professor Waugh’s YouTube playlist visit: Coping with Corona Series by WFU Professor
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Acknowledgement of Grief & Loss Amid the Pandemic

Four years ago, someone very dear to me died by suicide.  It was my first real exposure to traumatic grief as a survivor, rather than as a mental health provider, and I consider myself lucky that I made it to that point in life before having that experience.  I immediately did all the things I thought I should do.  I said to myself, “I’m a psychologist; I should know how to navigate this.”  I didn’t.  I went to counseling.  I read books and articles on grief and loss.  I practiced self-care.  It still sucked.

Two years later, I lost my mother to cancer.  I was not much more prepared for loss the second time around.  Again, I went to counseling.  [This seems like a good point to express my sincere gratitude – both personally and professionally – for the exceptional grief support services provided by Trellis Supportive Care.]  I revisited my self-care practices.  And, again, I turned to the internet to find books/articles that might help make sense of things.  That’s when I discovered Megan Devine’s book It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand.  I purchased the audiobook and have listened to it many times.  If you’d like to read an excerpt, Devine has provided a chapter entitled “Grief and Anxiety: Calming Your Mind When Logic Doesn’t Work” on her website, in response to the pandemic.

As I’m sure my fellow Student Services colleagues can attest, we’re seeing a lot of anxiety, stress, sadness and uncertainty right now – from parents, students, educators, our families and, yes, ourselves.  I’m not sure if everyone realizes this, but mental health professionals are notoriously bad at taking our own advice on self-care.  We’ll remind you that you need to put on your own oxygen mask first, before helping others, while at the same time putting the needs of everyone in our personal and professional lives ahead of our own.  Our natural inclination is to help.  To try to fix things.  It’s what we do.  Ask any of us and we can quickly rattle off a dozen or so self-care or coping strategies.  That’s important.  It matters.  We have written about it and so have many, many others.  A quick Google search will provide you with more self-care activities than you could possibly do in a day. 

In the educational world of Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) there’s an adage that “You can’t intervene your way out of broken core instruction.”  In other words, you can’t just keep putting bandages on a broken leg and expect that will fix it.  Over the past few days, I’ve been feeling like I’m missing something in our response to the anxiety and stress of the pandemic.  If we were to apply that MTSS adage to our current situation, it might read as “You can’t self-care your way out of this globally-shared trauma.”

I’ve been revisiting parts of Devine’s book (and her website) and I think I’ve now figured out what I was missing: acknowledgement.  I needed to take a step back from trying to fix things and just acknowledge the loss and grief.  Generally, we only relate “grief” to “death,” but that’s not actually true.  We grieve for things we’ve lost. In this article on “Coping With Grief and Loss,” the author notes that “feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to loss.”  Does that description ring true for anyone else right now?

In this video, Megan Devine provides a wonderful overview of that difference between “fixing things” and simply acknowledging grief/loss:

We have all lost our “normal.”  High school seniors may be grieving for the loss of traditional milestones like prom and graduation.  Educators may be grieving for the loss of school routines and access to their students.  Parents may be grieving for the loss of social and educational opportunities for their children.  Jobs have been lost, which can also be a source of grief.  The loss of important events that we are missing – weddings, funerals, birthday parties, planned trips, etc. – shouldn’t be minimized.  And, of course, we may be grieving for lives lost to this pandemic.  In this blog, Devine writes, “You have the right to grieve whomever – and whatever – you’ve lost. Don’t downgrade your loss just because others might have it worse.”

It took me 7 weeks to recognize the importance of simply acknowledging the grief/loss wrought by this pandemic.  I would encourage our readers to do the same.  Let’s all start by just acknowledging how much this sucks and how much we (and those we love) may have lost.  As much as we may want to, we can’t fix this for anyone – or even for ourselves.  Grief is a natural and normal response to loss; it hurts.  We will continue to offer you strategies and techniques to help with the hurt, while also admitting that there is no “quick fix.”  There’s no one-size-fits-all bandage, because everyone’s loss experience is unique.  The best response right now is simply continuing to support others.  Let’s keep showing up for one another in every way that we can.

“Together we can make things better, even when we can’t make them right.”
– Megan Devine
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The pandemic is…a good time to develop executive function skills?!?!

Schools are closed for in-person instruction, we must stay at home, stay away from others, and find a new routine for our daily lives. Perhaps there is something positive to come from the radical shift in our day-to-day behavior. Currently accepted theories in cognitive psychology agree that our behavior influences how our brains are wired. We see this demonstrated through learning; what feels difficult at first becomes more fluid with practice. This is also the foundation upon which the evidence based cognitive-behavior therapy is built.

One crucial set of cognitive functions are known as “executive functions.” Check out this great video by Sprouts explaining executive functions in more detail.

Here are the basics:
1. This is the part of the brain responsible for directing our attention, thoughts, emotions, and actions. Think “self-control.”
2. Those with strong executive functions experience a variety of positive life outcomes including physical and mental health, effective relationships, higher academic performance, and job success.

As noted by the creator of the Sprouts video and supported by current research, executive functions are shaped largely during early childhood (and continue through late adolescence). However, cognitive neuroscience shows us that the brain has plasticity, meaning that it changes, throughout our lifespan in response to new situations.

So which behaviors promote healthy executive functions?
1. Free play
2. Games and sports
3. Playing an instrument
4. Physical movement (this list is not exhaustive).
These are all activities that our current circumstances allow plenty of time to engage in. So, let’s encourage our brains to re-wire through this period toward more developed executive functions, and improved outcomes down the road.

If you suspect your child may have difficulties with executive functions, there are many books written for parents, including “Smart but Scattered” and “Organizing the Disorganized Child.”

References used in writing this blog piece:

McCloskey, G. (2011) Executive functions: A general overview. Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. http://www.fasp.org/PDF_Files/School_Neuropsychology/Executive_Functions-A_General_Overview_McCloskey.pdf


Diamond, A. (2014) Want to optimize executive functions and academic outcomes? Minnesota Symposium on Child Psychology (37) pp. 205–232. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4210770/#__ffn_sectitle

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