Skip to main content

Social Emotional Learning & Wellness

We in the Wasco Union Elementary School District understand that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic can take an emotional, as well as physical, toll on adults and children. Below are resources and strategies that can help with social-emotional learning and overall well-being. 

Trauma

Trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience such as currently living in a pandemic where our lives changed drastically in a short period of time. Some traumatic experiences occur once in a lifetime, others are ongoing. Many children have experienced multiple traumas, and for too many children trauma is a chronic part of their lives. Students who have experienced traumatic events may experience problems that impair their day-to-day functioning. Students who have experienced traumatic events may have behavioral or academic problems or their suffering may not be apparent at all.

Signs/Symptoms:

  • Increased distress (unusually whiny, irritable, moody)
  • Anxiety, fear, and worry about safety of self and others
  • Worry about recurrence of the traumatic event
  • New fears (e.g., fear of the dark, animals, or monsters)
  • Difficulty with authority, redirection, or criticism
  • Changes in behavior:
    • Increase in activity level
    • Decreased attention and/or concentration   
    • Withdrawal from others or activities
    • Angry outbursts and/or aggression
    • Absenteeism
    • Statements and questions about death and dying

Strategies:

  • Communicate with counselors or social workers.
  • Provide structure and consistency. Write the agenda on the board. Use entry and exit routines. When a student knows what to expect, it can help her to feel safe.
  • Ease transitions. Give time warnings ahead of activity transitions (“3 minutes until we switch groups...”). Warn ahead of doing something unexpected, such as turning off the lights or making a loud sound. If possible, prepare students for fire drills.
  • Provide choice. People with trauma history experience a lack of control. Provide safe ways for students to exercise choice and control within an activity and within the environment (choice of seats, choice of book, etc).
  • Develop strengths and interests. Focus on an area of competence and encourage its development to contribute to positive self-concept.
  • Be there. A lot of working with students with trauma history is just showing up, every day, and accepting the student no matter what behaviors emerge. Be an adult in that student’s life who is going to accept him and believe in him, no matter what - children can never have too many supportive adults in their lives.
  • Make an “out” plan. Create a way for a student to take space if she feels triggered or overwhelmed during class. Designate a space in the school building or outside where you will know where to find her if she needs to take time for a sensory break or to regulate her emotions. You can also provide a box or kit of sensory calming tools a student can use (silly putty, coloring, puzzles).

Other Resources:

Child Trauma Toolkit for Educators

When Students Are Traumatized, Teachers Are Too

Trauma and the Brain

Stress, Anxiety & Worry

During the pandemic, many have experienced stress, anxiety, and worry both because of the fear of getting the virus and because of uncertainty about how the outbreak will affect us socially and economically. Dealing with stress reactions can improve your health, quality of life, and wellbeing.

Signs/Symptoms:

  • Behavioral: hypervigilance, restlessness, nervousness, being tense
  • Cognitive: excessive worry, lack of concentration, racing thoughts, or unwanted thoughts, fearful
  • Body: fatigue or sweating, rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, increased sweating, feeling as if you cannot take a deep breath, nausea, palpitations, or trembling

Strategies:

  • Take slow deep breaths
  • Write or draw your worry.
  • Visualize a peaceful place
  • Go for a walk
  • Listen to calming music
  • Focus on what you can control
  • Squeeze a stress ball
  • Distract yourself, read or watch a movie
  • Exercise
  • Make time for things you enjoy.
  • Grounding Techniques: These are coping strategies to help reconnect you with the present and bring you out of a panic attack, PTSD flashback, unwanted memory, distressing emotion, or dissociation. They help separate you from the distress of your emotional state or situation.  See resources for specific techniques.

Other Resources:

Grounding Techniques Instructions

5 Ways to Help Teens Manage Anxiety about the Coronavirus

Mini Meditation

Coronavirus Stress Activities

Isolation & Depression

The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected many people’s mental health and wellbeing. A broad body of research links social isolation and loneliness to poor mental health that can lead to sadness and even depression.

Signs/Symptoms:

  • Feelings of loneliness and/or helplessness
  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Sleep changes and/or loss of energy
  • Self-loathing
  • Reckless behavior
  • Strategies:
  • Understand your feelings
  • Change your focus
  • Practice self-care
  • Engage in healthy activities and regular routine
  • Find new ways to engage with others
  • Seek professional assistance

Other Resources:

How to Overcome Loneliness

Dealing with Depression During Coronavirus

Helping Kids Cope with Loneliness during COVID-19

Coping with Disappointment, Change & Grief

Coping with disappointment takes time. Acknowledge the letdown but don't get stuck there. Try not to contemplate on it too much and avoid self-pity. Practice self-compassion and put into perspective the opportunity to grow from the experience.

Signs/Symptoms: Whether your child has lost a pet, teacher, neighbor, or family member, here are some other things you might see after the loss:

  • Clinginess: Your child may be extra clingy after a loss. He may cry about having to go to school or he might ask for help for tasks he previously mastered just to get your attention. Infants and toddlers can sense the distress in their caregivers, so they might respond by being irritable, crying more, and wanting to be held even if they aren’t aware of the loss.
  • Developmental regression: Toddlers and preschoolers may start wetting the bed or stop sleeping through the night. A small child might revert to crawling, baby talk, or want to drink from a bottle again.
  • Academic issues: Older children and teenagers who have experienced loss often show grief by falling behind in studies or failing classes that they once aced.
  • Sleeping problems: Grief-stricken children might want to sleep with parents or others close to them, or they could have nightmares or dreams about the person who died.
  • Difficulty concentrating: A child might not be able to focus on any particular activity or have trouble making decisions.
  • Anxiety: Both children and teens start to worry about everything, but particularly about other people in their life dying. They will need reassurance, particularly preschoolers, that they will be safe and looked after on a daily basis.
  • Feelings of abandonment: A child might feel betrayed, rejected, or abandoned by the person who died, and perhaps by others as well.
  • Behavioral reactions: Children of all ages may react to grief by displaying behavioral problems that didn’t exist anymore. They may begin acting out in school or talking back at home. Teenagers may be drawn to riskier behavior, such as drinking or taking drugs.
  • Guilt: It’s common for kids to blame themselves for a loved one’s death. Your child might think it’s his fault because he once wished the person would “go away” or he might somehow think his actions caused the person’s death.
  • Changes in play: Your child may start talking about death in his pretend play more. His stuffed animals, dolls, or action figures may die and come back to life.

Strategies: Here are some strategies that can help your child deal with grief:

  • Be honest and direct about the loss: Using euphemisms, such as “we lost him” or “she’s sleeping now,” can confuse and scare a little one. It’s important for a child to understand that the person isn’t just sleeping or lost, but rather their body stopped working and they are not coming back. Of course, gruesome details aren’t necessary, but you should focus on telling the truth.
  • Help your child acknowledge the loss: It’s up to you to decide if it’s appropriate for your child to attend the funeral. But, if your child is scared to go, don’t force her to do so. You can find other ways to acknowledge your child’s loss. Write a letter to the loved one, hold your own private celebration of life, light a candle, or create a scrapbook at home.
  • Be patient: A child’s grief cycles in and out, and to an adult, it can feel like they’re dwelling after you think the kid has moved on. It's crucial to be patient and respond similarly with comfort and truth every time they return to a moment of grief. A reminder, such as the anniversary of the death, could reawaken the grieving process.
  • Speak with other caregivers: Teachers, particularly, should be in the loop as to what’s going on with the family. They need to know information about the death, whom to turn to if they’re seeing signs of distress and an appropriate way to support the child if they’re having an emotional moment.
  • Take care of yourself: Your child will look to you to see how to deal with her feelings, so it’s important to make sure you’re taking care of yourself.  Talk about your feelings openly but be careful not to burden your child with too many adult issues. It may be helpful for you to speak with a grief counselor or to attend a grief group to help you care for your emotions.
  • Read books about grief: Your child may benefit from reading stories about loss, death, and grief. Be prepared to answer questions about what happens to people when they die. And if you don’t know the answer, it’s OK to say you aren’t sure.

Other Resources:

Supporting your Children’s Social, Emotional, and Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Talking to Your Child About COVID-19: A Parent Resource

Signs of Grief in Children

Finding Balance (Structure and Flexibility)

To develop, learn and thrive, children need warm, loving attention and quality time with you. If you have a work-life balance, you’re more likely to have the mental and emotional energy to give your children the attention they need. You’ll also have more opportunities for quality time with your children – that is, time when you’re really focused on your child.

Other Resources:

Work-Life Balance: Tips for your Family

From Managing Meltdowns to Finding Balance

Mindfulness

To be mindful means to pay attention to what is happening in the mind, body, and immediate environment. Mindfulness exercises improve increased awareness of thoughts, sensations, and feelings. Combined with increased kindness and passion, mindfulness improves our capacity to cope by identifying the options available to us.

The practice can be as simple as an awareness of breath and body. We observe our thoughts and emotions as they come and go before gently returning focus to physical sensations while remaining curious, compassionate, and accepting.

Strategies:   Here are a few short mindfulness exercises that will help you get more out of every moment:

  • Take a deep breath and count to 10. When the brain is reacting with a stressed or protective response, shallow, short breaths are common. A deep breath signals safety to the brain.
  • Take a cold drink of water. The change in temperature helps your brain refocus on the sensations of the present moment.
  • Try this 5,4,3,2,1 grounding technique:
    • LOOK: Look around for 5 things that you can see, and say them out loud. For example, you could say, I see the computer, I see the cup, I see the picture frame.
    • FEEL: Pay attention to your body and think of 4 things that you can feel, and say them out loud. For example, you could say, I feel my feet warm in my socks, I feel the hair on the back of my neck, or I feel the pillow I am sitting on.
    • LISTEN: Listen for 3 sounds. It could be the sound of traffic outside, the sound of typing, or the sound of your tummy rumbling. Say the three things out loud.
    • SMELL: Say two things you can smell. If you’re allowed to, it’s okay to move to another spot and sniff something. If you can’t smell anything at the moment or you can’t move, then name your 2 favorite smells.
    • TASTE: Say one thing you can taste. It may be the toothpaste from brushing your teeth or a mint from after lunch. If you can’t taste anything, then say your favorite thing to taste.

Wellness & Self Care

As we adjust to a difficult new normal, how to help ourselves and others can be unclear. Focusing on your own well-being and developing a self-care plan for yourself will help you support your family, friends, and students.

Other Resources:

30 Things kids can do for social-emotional health

Progressive Muscle Relaxation for Kids