Supporting Students’ Mental Health And Well-being During COVID-19

With many schools transitioning into remote or online learning because of the pandemic, the toll of the virus, isolation, increased workload, and other associated effects are rising among many students. According to a May 2020 survey by Best Colleges, an online college planning resource, 81% of high school and college students surveyed said they somewhat or strongly agreed that they were experiencing increased stress due to the learning disruptions stemming from COVID-19.

“In the beginning, remote learning seemed easier and fun for kids since classes are only for half a day and they are just at home,” says Dr. Natasha Esteban-Ipac, a pediatrician and adolescent-medicine specialist. “But there are also disadvantages to online schooling, chiefly the lack of physical connection with other humans — no more hallway chats, high-fives, pats on the back, or hugs from friends and teachers. Students also need to contend with virtual learning fatigue because it takes extra effort to interpret the non-verbal cues of the person on the other side of the monitor. Lastly, let’s not forget that there are physical ill-effects of spending too much time online — eye strain, headache, and fatigue can affect their general well-being.”

“If left unresolved, these can affect a child’s ability and capacity to succeed at home, in school, in relationships, and in work later on.”

Dr. Natasha Esteban-Ipac, a pediatrician and adolescent-medicine specialist

All of the above, compounded with other pandemic-related stresses like parents’ anxieties and disruption of routine, can lead to the development of mental health issues in children such as anxiety, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorders, depression, and other mood disorders, sleep disorders, and even addiction to technology. “If left unresolved, these can affect a child’s ability and capacity to succeed at home, in school, in relationships, and in work later on,” says Dr. Esteban-Ipac.

What can parents and educators do to protect a student’s mental health? According to Dr. Estebal-Ipac, “All we need is L.O.V.E.”

  • L – Label and validate emotions. 

“We need to help children recognize what they are feeling and express them in healthy ways to prevent them from bottling up,” she says. This includes teaching them calming techniques such as deep breathing exercises, pausing to count from 1 to 10, or writing in a journal or diary. “When a child knows what to do when he or she is faced with certain emotions, they feel a sense of control and are comforted,” she adds

  • O – Offer to listen and respond.

Empathize and talk with your children when they are feeling tired, stressed, or scared. “Believe in the power of touch—hug or cuddle your children. Do not be afraid to be firm, though, if they do something wrong or anything that will compromise their safety,” reminds Dr. Ipac-Esteban. 

  • V – Value routine, rules, and schedules.

Having a structure at home is very helpful especially during stressful situations like this pandemic. When children have some form of control over the things that will happen throughout the day, they will feel more safe and secure. “Have a routine for waking up, preparing for school, mealtimes, activities such as playing or reading, and bedtime,” she says. 

Things not to miss out in these routines, rules, and schedules include:

  • Eating a balanced diet regularly
  • Having regular physical activity. “There is no need to squeeze in a home gym if you do not have space. Simple exercises like walking or jogging (in place if needed), stretching, dancing, lifting weights (even using home objects such as water bottles) are good enough,” suggests Dr. Esteban-Ipac. 
  • Limiting non-school related screen time 
  • Having adequate sleep and practicing good sleep hygiene
  • Socializing with other people but always making sure to stay safe
  • Always learning. “Constantly explore something new with your children, be it cooking, calligraphy, photography, or other online courses. Part of learning is also teaching the children about life skills, or how they can be functional adults. So involve them in doing household chores, preparing meals, cleaning parts of the house, or doing the laundry,” Dr. Esteban-Ipac advises. 
  • E – Embrace mistakes, chaos and imperfections: both your children’s and yours.
    Negotiating and resolving conflicts is an important skill children should learn because it develops resilience, and they learn it best with adults around them, be it parents or teachers. Some things we can do:
    • Try spending one on one quality time with each child (if you have more than one).
    • Try to solve problems together, and if it is really overwhelming for them, help them break down the task/problem into smaller tasks so they can solve it one step at a time. 
    • Help them organize their time and give them the opportunity to decide how they will tackle their tasks (be it school work or chores). This gives them a sense of autonomy and boosts their confidence.
    • Reframe their mistakes as learning opportunities and involve them in planning ways to improve their work. Reassure them that it’s okay to make mistakes, and that you do not love them any less. 

All these strategies will really require time and patience, so if you are a parent or teacher, don’t forget to practice self-care. “One of my favorite sayings is ‘Mental health begins with M.E,’” says Dr. Esteban-Ipac. “A stressed parent will lead to a stressed child, and in the same way a happy and healthy parent will result in a happy and healthy child.”

“A stressed parent will lead to a stressed child, and in the same way a happy and healthy parent will result in a happy and healthy child.”

If you feel your child is really troubled with online learning, talk to them and help them identify their reasons for being stressed or sad. But if it is really overwhelming, even for you, do not be afraid to seek professional help if needed.

MindNation’s Care Helpline on FB Messenger is available 24/7, all year round, if you or your child needs someone to talk to. The service is FREE, completely confidential, and the staff is trained to ease your anxieties. Drop them a line at http://m.me/themindnation.

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