4 Social-Emotional Practices to Help Students Flourish Now

4 Social-Emotional Practices to Help Students Flourish Now

Stephanie Jones is the Gerald S. Lesser Professor in early-childhood development at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. She is the primary author of the July 2021 report “Navigating SEL from the Inside Out: Looking Inside & Across 33 Leading SEL Programs, A Practical Resource for Schools and OST Providers, Revised and Expanded 2nd edition,” commissioned by the Wallace Foundation.

Unpredictable. That is how I would describe the last two school years. But there is one thing I would predict about the year that’s just started: It will be just as turbulent, if not more so.

So, what can teachers (and parents) do to help children feel stable, safe, and ready to learn? My counsel is to return to social and emotional learning fundamentals by using strategies from evidence-based SEL learning programs designed for schools and other settings. This summer, I was the lead author on a comprehensive review of these approaches and their specific practices commissioned by the Wallace Foundation. Here are my four recommendations for approaches that will help students feel understood, express themselves, and flourish during this school year:

1. Ask questions and listen actively.

Children are feeling intense pressure this year from parents and teachers. Both feel the need for their children to catch up after a year of online, hybrid, or just unpredictable learning. In addition, many kids (especially older students) lost out on meaningful rituals—homecoming, prom, graduations, and sports events. Many also experienced the trauma of losing a family member to COVID-19 or witnessing a parent or grandparent fight the illness. Indeed, educators experienced many of these stressors themselves.

This disappointment and trauma will show up in the classroom and in the home, and everyone needs space and time to process what is happening and has happened.

So, what can we do? It helps to take time to check in with children and ensure their feelings are heard. A conversation with a teenager might go like this:

Adult: “Hey, I see you are upset (or especially quiet, or something) today. Is something going on that you’d like to talk about?”

Student: “I’m not sure, I just don’t feel like myself, and everything has me worried.”

Adult: “I hear you; everything really can feel out of control right now. I’m here for you, you can talk with me any time, and I’ll do my best to listen.”

2. Let your students know what’s going to happen and establish clear and predictable expectations.

In unstable times, it helps to overcommunicate with students about school schedules and expectations and establish concrete procedures when possible. Predictability is the name of the game—students of all ages will thrive when they feel safe, and safety means knowing what’s coming next. If students are slow to fall into step, give them more space, slow things down, and exhale.

Encourage your students’ families to do the same at home. Keeping wake-up time, meals, and bedtimes as similar as possible makes a difference, and establishing rituals and routines for these everyday activities adds an opportunity for connection. Parents might ask, “What was the hardest and easiest for you today?” Or: “What are you grateful for today?”

3. Provide extra social and emotional time, not less.

If children are to thrive in the current climate, incorporating social and emotional tools and practices into both classroom and at home is essential. Clearly, the exact approach will differ for younger and older students, but both do best in respectful, open, and accepting learning environments.

These are some simple foundational SEL strategies for the classroom:

  • Use journaling. Encourage children to express their feelings on paper.
  • Do daily greetings. Smile warmly and greet each other by preferred name; use whole-group greeting activities.
  • Hold class/family meetings. Foster camaraderie and group-behavior norms.
  • Incorporate art. Use visual arts to document and express feelings.
  • Talk about managing emotions. Engage in a group discussion about emotions and effective and safe ways to express them in class.
  • Employ optimistic closings. “What I learned today is …,” “I am looking forward to tomorrow because …,” “What I might do differently is …” are some examples.
Suicide attempts by children have spiked during the pandemic, especially among girls

Suicide attempts by children have spiked during the pandemic, especially among girls

Five years ago, if a child younger than 13 arrived at Maine Medical Center for treatment following a suicide attempt, it was rare and notable.

It’s no longer rare.

If your life or someone else’s life is in immediate danger, dial 911.

For immediate assistance during a mental health crisis, call or text the Maine 24-Hour Crisis Hotline at 888-568-1112.

For any other support or referrals, call the NAMI Maine Help Line at 800-464-5767 or email helpline@namimaine.org.

National resources are also available. The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. You can also contact the National Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

Warning signs of teen suicide might include:

  • Talking about suicide, including making statements like “I’m going to kill myself” or “I won’t be a problem for you much longer”
  • Withdrawing from social contact
  • Having mood swings
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Feeling trapped, hopeless or helpless about a situation
  • Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
  • Doing risky or self-destructive things
  • Giving away belongings when there is no other logical explanation for why this is being done
  • Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated when experiencing some warning signs listed above

What to do if you suspect your teen is suicidal:

If you suspect your teen might be thinking about suicide, talk to them immediately. Don’t be afraid to use the word “suicide.” Talking about suicide won’t plant ideas in their head.

Ask your teen about their feelings and listen. Don’t dismiss their problems.

Seek medical help for your teen and follow through with the treatment plan.

“We’re seeing more of them and they’re younger. We have seen as young as 7 to 9 years old, which we never saw,” said Dr. Robyn Ostrander, division director of child and adolescent psychiatry. “It’s hard to wrap your head around that a child of that age would even conceive of suicide or know what it is, but it happens.”

In Maine and across the country, the number of adolescents who attempt suicide has risen dramatically, setting off alarm bells for mental health and suicide prevention experts who say more focus needs to be placed on talking about it and providing access to mental health services.

The increase is being driven largely by girls, who experts say experience depression at higher rates than boys and may be more likely to seek help for self-inflicted injuries.

Nationwide, emergency room visits following suicide attempts by girls age 12 to 17 spiked in 2020 and the first months of 2021. The number of girls who went to the hospital after a suspected suicide attempt rose 51 percent from March 2019 to March 2021, according to a recent analysis by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The increase among boys was 3.7 percent.

Caregiving Is Crucial: How To Support Caregivers And Why It Matters So Much

Caregiving Is Crucial: How To Support Caregivers And Why It Matters So Much

Caregiving has always been important to families, friends and communities, but over the last year and a half, caregiving has escalated in its value and significance. The necessity for caregiving has intensified, the definition of caregiving has expanded and its impact on life and work has increased.

All of this puts new stressors on people and their employers—and new rewards as well. Far from just a drain or a demand, caregiving is a complex and mixed experience which requires understanding, focus and intentional support.

New Definitions

In the popular press, caregiving is often defined as care provided to elders—including everything from housekeeping and personal care to transportation and non-professional medical support (giving meds, etc.). According to the American Geriatrics Society, 30% of people 65 and older receive help. And 65% of this care is provided by unpaid caregivers including friends, family or neighbors. But a full definition of caregiving also requires attention to the care we provide to children, friends, neighbors or others who need support.

During the pandemic, the types of people who need support and the kinds of care they need have expanded. Caregiving includes childcare and learning help—especially as childcare facilities and schools have closed or reduced capacity. It also includes non-professional healthcare for all ages. And the toll on our collective mental health also necessitates more caregiving in the form of emotional support and empathy. Of course, the pandemic is one factor. Another is the “sandwich generation” in which people care for their children, parents—and sometimes grandparents—due to people’s increasing longevity.

Impacts on Caregivers

Studies over the years emphasize the stress caregiving can cause. It can indeed be exhausting for the caregiver—physically, emotionally and cognitively—because of a lack of time or boundaries, or the emotional toll of caring. In fact, a study by the American Staffing Association found parents of children under 18 reported their responsibilities for facilitating learning for their children interfered with their ability to get ahead at work.

But while there can be negative impacts, recent research also shows caregiving isn’t as harmful to caregivers as we might have believed. In particular, studies from Johns Hopkins and the University of Southern California show caregiving doesn’t have negative effects on caregivers. In addition, a study from the University at Buffalo found when caregivers are shown appreciation, it enhances their experience. And research from Universität Basel found caregivers tend to live longer compared with those who do not provide care for others.

We value each other, and community is an important part of the human condition. We are happier and healthier when we’re connected with others. In addition, our sense of purpose and joy are enhanced when we contribute our skills, talents or care to others in need. A study published in NeuroImage found people have a natural impulse for caregiving, and research from Child Development found people’s experience of receiving care in their first three years is integral to their wellbeing later in life. The bottom line: Caring is important in our human experience. Our human instinct for belonging and affiliation is likely what contributes to the positive effects of caregiving.

How To Identify Relational Aggression, The Type Of Emotional Bullying That Affects Younger Girls

How To Identify Relational Aggression, The Type Of Emotional Bullying That Affects Younger Girls

Emotional bullying may not be something you knew about. But, if you have a young daughter, sister, or friend, have you ever experienced her coming home from school feeling both confused and upset?

Through some careful questions, you may have discerned that she’s being bullied. And not by a stranger but someone she considered a good friend.

It’s not uncommon for young girls to experience having a close friend suddenly decide to ignore them and talk about them behind their backs. Sometimes, those so-called friends will act nice to the victim but suddenly shift gears when around other peers.

As a result, your daughter is the target of jokes made at her expense, which greatly impacts her self-esteem and mental health.

This type of “emotional bullying” is known as relational aggression.

Physical bullying mainly relies on physical violence. But, this type of bullying involves relationships, the core of what every girl wants and needs to feel safe and secure in her world.

Emotional bullying is when the bully uses relationships, words, and gestures to target the victim. They are also verbally aggressive.

And, sometimes, you decide not to overreact to the situation because it may seem like your daughter is being “too sensitive.”

However, you suddenly realize that your daughter spends less time with friends and no longer wants to go to school.

As a parent, you want to assist and even protect your daughter but, perhaps, you are unsure how best to proceed. It’s especially difficult knowing how to proceed if there are no clear-cut threats to her safety.

Instead, the threat is subtle.

What are some common behaviors among emotional bullies?

  • Spreading rumors about the victim.
  • Using social media sites (such as Snapchat) to post a humiliating post about the victim.
  • Asking other girls to make anonymous posts pertaining to hurtful thoughts about the victim — most often, the posts will include mean and hurtful statements about the victim.
How Teachers Can Use Simone Biles’ Show of Social-Emotional Self-Care in Their Classrooms

How Teachers Can Use Simone Biles’ Show of Social-Emotional Self-Care in Their Classrooms

Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw from a series of Olympics competitions last month care for her mental health was surprising and transformative. The move, especially by an Olympic athlete who is considered one of the greatest the world has ever seen, was more influential and inspiring than any athletic feat thus far.

The gymnast’s withdrawal from the competition emphasizes the importance of holistic self care and should inspire us to think about how we can practice taking care of our own selves and supporting those around us — our children, our colleagues, and our family members — to do the same. When we’re feeling unwell, it’s hard to be the best version of ourselves. The “ twisties ” can take many different forms and the connection between mental health, social emotional wellness, and performance is real. (Biles later re-entered the competition and won a Bronze medal on the balance beam.)

By withdrawing, Simone Biles has shown courage and vulnerability. She has prioritized her own wellbeing over the fame and glory of being crowned Olympic champion. Coming off of Naomi Osaka’s decision to pull out of the French Open in May for similar reasons, there’s an opportunity to follow these athletes’ leads to prioritize their own wellbeing as inspiration for your students to do the same.

Here are four ways we can encourage students to follow Biles’ and Osaka’s leadership and cultivate the skills in themselves that will strengthen their own social emotional wellness.

Explore Expectations

Invite students to write out an expectation that is weighing on them from their family, school, or society. Then have them come up with a gentler expectation they choose to place on themselves.

Ask students to reflect on whether the expectation that is weighing on them came from themselves or from someone else. By thinking about how we can replace this external expectation with a kinder one, we’re being gentler on ourselves and the pressure we hold.

Care Fully

Generate ideas for self and community care. Students explore ways they can care for themselves and their community and how that might feel by expressing this through movement.

Students can do a movement to represent a self-care step they would like to take (like taking deep breaths) and a frozen statue in their bodies for how that self-care step makes them feel. Then, invite students to make a movement for a community care step they can take (like picking up trash at a park or speaking out about unfairness) and a frozen statue in their bodies for how that might make folks in their community feel. Debrief with students and reflect on what they can do to take care of themselves and their community. Follow the Follower

Understand the importance […]

What Is Resilience?

What Is Resilience?

SPECIAL REPORT: EXPLORING RESILIENCY

In our psychiatric practices, we naturally focus on psychopathology and the negative effects that adverse and traumatic experiences have on our patients’ mental health. We assess disaster survivors’ maladjustment in order to develop policies for mental health recovery programs. However, the majority of individuals exposed to disasters or other traumatic events do not develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or another lasting psychiatric disorder, although they may experience temporary ripples on the surface of their emotional lives and subclinical symptoms for a time.

Resiliency and Posttraumatic Growth: Cultural Implications for Psychiatrists

Resilience and Healthy Aging

Igor Linkov, PhD, MSc; Stephanie Galaitsi, MSEE; Katarzyna Klasa, MPH, BSN; Andrew Wister, PhD

In considering the patients seen by my residents and me, I am often in awe of the tremendous strength that many of them have developed despite experiencing horrific abuse, neglect, disasters, extreme poverty, major losses, and other traumatic events. Some who were severely abused or neglected as children become devoted parents or highly functional adults, albeit with effort. How do we understand this emotional hardiness?1

Resilience is a relatively neglected research topic. A Medline search for medical literature related to “psychological resilience” revealed only 6471 articles, whereas a search for articles related to “PTSD” and “posttraumatic stress” (which does not include other mental health problems associated with trauma) identified 36,682 and 18,823, respectively. In fact, in my own research on biological markers for symptoms and diagnoses of PTSD, depression, and anxiety after disaster, we explored heart rate and blood pressure responses, heart rate vulnerability, and levels of cortisol, interleukin-2, and interleukin-6—yet we did not explore those markers or personal characteristics associated with resilience.

Part of the problem is that resilience is difficult to define. Is it the absence of mental health diagnosis, or is it having temporary symptoms or symptom levels below a defined threshold of distress? Or is it having a fulfilled life and pursuing cherished life goals?

However we define resilience, what factors contribute to it? Are some individuals blessed with a fortunate genetic endowment or temperament? Some research has shown heritability of resilience to range between 33% and 52%. Research on resilience has implicated genetic variations in expression of neuropeptide Y and regulation of the HPA axis, as well as polymorphisms in noradrenergic and dopaminergic systems and serotonin transporter genes.2 Conversely, epigenetic factors involve methylation, demethylation, and histone changes after stress, especially early life stress, which can change gene expression but not DNA structure, for a variable amount of time, contributing to psychiatric vulnerability.3 Does this “hop on, hop off” epigenetic model for stress response inversely explain emotional hardiness? Recent research results point to an association between maternal resilience and increased cellular telomere length in newborns, with longer telomeres important in gene transcription, meiosis, and cellular longevity.4 Can promoting maternal adaptation to stress during pregnancy have protective factors in offspring?