Our kids have been on a two-year roller coaster that shows no signs of slowing down. Just when we think the ride is coming to stop, it throws us for an unexpected curve. The collective trauma on students’ well-being is unlike anything we’ve recently experienced. The isolation and unknown of the COVID-19 pandemic have disconnected kids from their friends, stunted their social development, and erased important milestones in their young lives. If your child is unhappy or disengaged, they’re not alone. In a report released by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy in December, researchers found that depression and anxiety among youth doubled during the pandemic. It can feel impossible to focus on schoolwork when a sense of dread always lingers in the background. As we enter a new year and a new semester, you can strengthen your child’s resiliency and confidence by building a support system with their teachers and counselors to improve their social-emotional learning (SEL). What is social-emotional learning? An essential part of human development, SEL is the process by which we acquire and build our skills in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. While SEL can be a designated class in itself, it’s more often integrated into a school’s overall curriculum, including here at ALVS. When educators, from history teachers to English instructors, build empathy, inclusiveness, and self-awareness into their courses, students better grasp the information and are more likely to participate. Six SEL strategies parents can put into action While schools are placing a greater emphasis on SEL during the pandemic, it takes a collaborative approach to create a climate of trust, respect, and acceptance in and out of the classroom. That means parents need to continue playing an active role in their teen’s social-emotional well-being. Here are ways you can help: Have an open mind about SEL. In today’s politically-charged environment, SEL has become a trigger for some parents who believe school should be 100% focused on reading, writing, and arithmetic. However, when they hear terms like goal-setting and problem-solving, they are more supportive of the educational practice. Studies prove that SEL intervention increases students’ academic performance by 11 percentile points, improves a child’s behavior at school and at home, and lowers their risk of depression and self-destructive behavior. View behavioral issues through your child’s eyes. Isolation and shifting educational experiences have contributed to greater behavioral challenges among youth. If your teen is acting up, instead of jumping into disciplinary mode, press pause to determine what may be the cause behind the behavior. In some instances, it may just be a teenager acting like a teenager. In others, something deeper – like underlying fear and uncertainty – may manifest in anger or frustration. Take the time to listen, then respond. As adults, we want to solve our children’s problems when we see them hurting so we overwhelm them with questions. Instead, we need to give kids space, be active listeners, and validate their feelings. One psychiatrist explained that the number one thing she hears from students is they just need someone to hear them. Dr. Vanessa Jensen of The Cleveland Clinic shared that the best way to connect with kids is through the raindrop theory – “You just put the little raindrops out there by saying, ‘You know, I’m around,’ or ‘I’m going to be in my study if you want to talk.’ You put those little hints out there, and kids will reach out when they feel comfortable.” Establish intentional routines. Although they would tell you differently, children thrive when they have a daily routine. Routine provides them with a sense of safety and security, especially if they’ve experienced a trauma. Because the unpredictability and uncertainty of COVID-19 threw all of our schedules out of whack, it’s crucial to rebuild structure at home with set times for learning, relaxation, and socialization. In addition, carve out time each week to connect with your child, whether it’s a game night, a trip to the movies, or an outdoor activity. Keep an eye out for warning signs. Since COVID-19 began, there has been a 30% increase in emergency room visits for mental health reasons among teens between 12 and 17 years old. Therefore, parents need to recognize the following signs of stress in their child according to the American Academy of Pediatrics: changes in mood or behavior, a loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed, insomnia or sleeping all the time, a drop in academic effort, problems concentrating, or an increase in risky behavior. Be sure you’re taking care of yourself. Never underestimate your own trauma – the pandemic has been incredibly difficult on parents, too. By making time for self-care, you not only become emotionally ready to help your child through their struggles, but you also model coping mechanisms they can use to handle ongoing stress. At ALVS, we’re here to help our students and their parents navigate the unknown. If you have questions on how the pandemic is impacting your child’s academic well-being or want to learn more about putting SEL strategies to work at home, please feel free to reach out to your student’s ALVS counselor.