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Supports for Mental Health and Social/Emotional Learning
Supports for Mental Health and Social/Emotional Learning

SOCIAL/EMOTIONAL SUPPORTS FOR STUDENTS AND FAMILIES

FOR THE START OF THE 2020-2021 SCHOOL YEAR

Our entire community has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This virus has forced us to change our entire way of life including how we work, learn and socialize. As a result, the 2020-2021 school year will likely be difficult for many students, staff members, and parents/guardians, who may experience anxiety, stress, and discomfort. We recognize some individuals may require additional supports to re-establish a sense of connection and safety with the school environment.

The Student Services Team (School Counselors, School Psychologists and School Social Workers) are available to support students, families and staff during this unprecedented time. The District is providing additional training and assistance for teachers to help them support students and families. At the start of the school year, LMSD is taking the following action steps to continue social/emotional learning and supporting mental wellness:

To learn more about these activities, please contact your student's school counselor, school psychologist or school social worker.

Please connect with your child's school counselor if there is any significant information regarding health, safety and social/emotional functioning that the school team should be aware of to support your child.

Below is some additional information on ways parents/guardians can support students at home and prepare them for this school year. Please also visit the elementary school and middle school counselor webpages for helpful social/emotional supports, community resources, and strategies:

Talking to Children About COVID-19

When talking to children about COVID-19, make yourself available and let children lead the conversation. Always consider the developmental appropriateness of the content before sharing it with children. It is important to be truthful in your responses with children and avoid unnecessary details that are not developmentally appropriate. For example, when talking with an early elementary student about COVID-19, it is important to note that social distancing, wearing masks and frequent handwashing can keep us safe; however, discussing death counts or the lack of hospital resources would not be appropriate.

Make sure to leave time for children to ask questions. Plan to have these conversations when you are not pressed for time and children feel safe. Additionally, it is critical that you monitor what you are saying, doing and watching around children. How you respond to a crisis and other stressful situations will serve as a model for your child when they experience hardship and distress. Strive to demonstrate compassion and reassurance when talking about COVID-19, so children develop the tools to navigate these challenges independently and feel a greater sense of control.

The following sites provide parents/guardians additional strategies and resources to aide in conversations with children about COVID-19:

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP)

National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)

American Psychological Association (APA)

Center for Disease Control (CDC)

Kids Health from Nemours

Harvard Graduate School of Education

Talking to Children about Wearing Masks and Social Distancing

A social story is a narrative made to illustrate particular challenges and strategies children can use to successfully navigate the challenges. Social stories help children understand social norms and learn how to successfully communicate with others appropriately. Social stories are commonly used for children with Autism; however, many parents and educators use them with all children as they are helpful tools used to understand and visualize problem-solving skills. The links below contain helpful social stories and strategies parents/guardians can use to discuss social distancing, mask use and COVID-19 facts with children:

Families Together Inc.

Child Development Center

Indiana Institute on Disability and Community

Autism Resource Central

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Children's Mercy Hospital

Addressing Anxiety in Children

It is important to remember that feeling anxious, scared, sad or worried is a common response to a crisis situation like COVID-19. Most individuals bounce back from challenging situations in due time and with support from loved ones. If your child expresses feeling anxious about COVID-19 and/or returning to school, equip them with the information and tools to feel more in control of their situation. Review how to properly wash hands, wear a mask and maintain appropriate social distancing. Additionally, remind children that following these practices enable us to safely be out and in the community without fear.

As adults we must be mindful to assess our own concerns and fears to ensure we are not projecting them onto children. Be a model for your child and demonstrate healthy ways to cope with and manage stress. Consider modeling and teaching the following coping strategies to children: taking deep breaths, counting backwards, drawing or journaling, using a stress ball, etc. Establishing consistent routines can be a great way for children to feel a greater sense of control and predictability into their lives. Consider scheduling set times for physical activity and movement breaks, peer socialization through technology or in person (when outdoors with appropriate social distancing and masking) and relaxation. Additionally, make yourself available to check in with your children frequently to assess how they are feeling.

As noted earlier, the LMSD elementary school and middle school counselors have created a comprehensive website that provides families with resources and strategies to support the social/emotional needs of children in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If your child is displaying significant difficulty with anxiety or any other mental health difficulties, contact their school counselor and seek professional support if needed. Both the elementary and middle school counselor websites provide contact information for local mental health providers and resources. The links below are helpful resources related to supporting anxiety in children:

Child Mind Institute

KidsHealth from Nemours

Children's Health Hospital

LMSD Elementary Counselor website

LMSD Middle School Counselor website

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

Mobile Crisis (24/7 Free Local Resource for Emergency and Crisis Situations: 1-800-793-2150)

Trauma-Informed Care and Racial Trauma/Discrimination

The abrupt state-wide school closure and stay-at-home order mandated by the Governor last spring due to the spread of COVID-19 was perceived by many as a very traumatic event. The resulting uncertainty and significant stress continue to be felt across our community. The District recognizes that many students will start the school year with questions and concerns; therefore, additional trauma-focused supports will be provided.

Moreover, incidents of police brutality and racial violence continue to be a troubling reality of our current society. The stress and emotional pain a child experiences when exposed to racism and discrimination can serve as a significant barrier to academic, social and emotional growth. The recent deaths of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery (and countless others) and subsequent protests remind all of us in the Lower Merion School District that conversations about racism, equity, and inclusion must continue in our classrooms and community. To ensure our school community is prepared to support the social/emotional needs related to the various forms of trauma students may have experienced, all LMSD professional and instructional staff members received training on trauma-informed care and racial trauma at the start of the school year. Additionally, training and conversations about racism, discrimination, equity and inclusion will be provided throughout the entire school year at both the building and district levels.

Trauma-informed care is a strengths-based approach grounded in the understanding or and responsiveness to the impact of trauma. It is an approach that aims to recognize the symptoms of trauma that may be present in a particular setting, emphasizes the importance of physical/psychological/emotional safety, creates opportunities for individuals to establish a sense of safety and empowerment, and integrates knowledge about trauma and support into procedures and practice. The District provided professional staff training on trauma-informed care and strategies to support children in feeling safer and more connected in school. The links below are helpful resources related to trauma-informed care and ways parents/guardians can support children who may be experiencing trauma:

American Psychological Association

National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

National museum of African American History and Culture

Teaching Tolerance

Center for Racial Justice in Education

Zoom/Screen Fatigue

Due to school buildings being closed and social distancing requirements, we as a society have been relying on Zoom and other methods of video conferencing for school, work and socialization. Many people report feeling of exhausted and stressed after using virtual platforms of communication for so much of the day. Consider the following recommendations for you and your children to address Zoom/screen fatigue:

  • Take stretch and movement breaks between video conferencing and screen use
  • If the option is available, consider non-video conferencing methods of communication (phone call, email, text, etc.)
  • Set designated time to be outdoors, weather permitting
  • Try to be present and fully engage during video conferencing and avoid multi-tasking

Additional Resources

Tips for quarantined parents in times of COVID-19

Parenting children with chronic disease during COVID-19

Resources to help Families during COVID-19

COVID-19:Calming Anxiety

Talk to children about trauma

Parent resources during COVID-19

CDC resource on ways to manage anxiety and stress


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