When writing a blog post, my anxiety level immediately escalates, and I find myself looking for the delete key.
If only during this pandemic I could find a delete key for my anxiety.
Regrettably, no such thing exists, but I am not left alone with anxiety in this or any circumstance. Instead, what I do find are others feeling the same way, resources that I never new existed, and a community ready to support me at a moment’s notice.
As the School Counselor at RCLS, I am part of that community of support for families and students, even in the midst of this pandemic school year.
This year I have been using the Second Step social/emotional learning curriculum to work with your middle school students–– grades 6, 7, and 8. The first unit was designed to support schools as they re-open after extended school closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It aligns with the Second Step program, but can also be used by any educator looking to foster a positive school or classroom community. The lessons focused on the transition back to school, personal values, value of friendship, community values, and making one’s school community better.
Second Step is largely concerned with building resiliency in students. Short, research-based student activities are designed to help support students’ coping and recovery following a crisis, which we certainly have experienced collectively this year. Each activity focuses on a topic or skill known to support students’ well-being.
The Second Step curriculum and my time with RCLS students work in partnership with your efforts to support your children. As parents of middle-school students, you play a primary role in encouraging resiliency in your students. To that end, I offer you the following insights with regard to pre-teens and stress, tips that are pertinent even during a time of remote learning, as RCLS is in now.
1. Get a good night’s sleep
Sleep is very important for health and well-being, especially during adolescence, when the brain and body are developing rapidly. When a young teen sleeps, his/her brain integrates new information with existing knowledge, making it stick. Sleep time is also when the body repairs muscles and other cellular damage and restores energy for the next day. When a teen does get enough sleep, the level of stress hormones in his/her body increases, making the student feel wired, edgy, and even more stressed. A lack of sleep can lower one’s threshold for stress, which means a pre-teen/teen may interpret minor things as more stressful than if he or she were rested.
Most teens report sleeping less than the recommended 8.5–9.25 hours per night. They say they’re sleeping more like 7 hours on school nights and 8 on non-school nights. And about a quarter of teens say their sleep quality is fair or poor. What happens when you don’t get enough sleep? Here’s what teens notice:
· Feeling more irritable, anxious, depressed, sad, and overwhelmed
· Feeling sluggish or lazy
· Poor memory and concentration
· Slower response time
· Poor food choices and weight gain
· Family or social conflict due to irritability
· Getting sick more often
· Worse acne
So, a lack of sleep feeds the stress cycle, but it works the other way, too. Stress also affects sleep. It can make it harder to fall asleep or stay asleep. So, during periods of high stress, it’s even more important consider sleep quality and habits and make changes to help a school student sleep better. Getting a good night’s rest will help a middle-school student get through these stressful times.
2. Get help with managing grief
Students are grieving the loss of many things right now, including normalcy. They may be overwhelmed by sadness. Naming things they have lost and aren’t likely to get back can help them let those things go and move on. Identifying ways adults can support them gives them a sense of control over their recovery process and cues adults about how to help. This means your RCLS student would benefit from the security of open lines of communication with his/her parents.
3. Tell the story
Students can make meaning out of a difficult situation by turning it into a coherent narrative. The process of creating a structured retelling of an event helps students make sense of what happened. It can help them process any negative emotions and integrate the experience into a broader perspective so they can move on.
4. Keep the big picture in view
Parents, as you support your students during this difficult year, keep these reminders in mind as you reflect on what matters most during a pandemic (Watson, 2020).
- If you or your teen is feeling anxious, it is ok to sit in the anxiety sometimes and allow yourself (and others) to be off-kilter.
- We need to rest in order to stay healthy. Expecting ourselves to maintain normal productivity levels is not realistic.
- This is an opportunity to rethink your obligations and how your time is spent and to decide what you want to look like in the “new normal.”
- Rugged individualism will not get us through a global pandemic. This is a time for us to unite our local, online, and global communities.
- Fear is contagious, and it spreads as quickly a virus. Mental health is paramount right now. The tips offered here are intended to help students (and their families) be mentally healthy while you also work to keep your families physically healthy.
Thank you, RCLS parents, for your faithful support of your middle-school students this year. Ms. Lindquist is a great resource to them and all of us here at RCLS, and she may be a resource to you, as well. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.