Students are going through a lot as they start the 2023-2024 school year. Here’s how teachers and schools can help.
We Need to Talk About Students’ Mental Health
There’s no other way to say it–kids across the country are experiencing a mental health crisis, according to the American Psychological Association. There is a plethora of factors, many of which are left over from the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are other forces at play too. Some of the most common causes include:
- Losing a parent or caregiver during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Gun violence in schools and other current events
- Overexposure to social media
Plus, the ups and downs that are an inherent part of growing up.
In 2022, specialist visits for girls ages 12 to 17 doubled for eating disorders, and there was an increase in teenaged patients with anxiety, depression, trauma, stress, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Signs to Look Out For
If you notice any of these signs in a student, it may be time to intervene.
- Persistent sadness that lasts two weeks or more
- Withdrawing from or avoiding social interactions
- Hurting oneself or talking about hurting oneself
- Talking about death or suicide
- Outbursts or extreme irritability
- Out-of-control behavior that can be harmful
- Drastic changes in mood, behavior, or personality
- Changes in eating habits
- Loss of weight
- Frequent headaches or stomachaches
- Difficulty concentrating
- Changes in academic performance
- Avoiding or missing school
Keep in mind that female, LGBTQ+, and/or students who experience racism have an increased risk of mental health issues.
How Teachers Can Help
In addition to learning about strategies used in trauma-informed instruction, teachers can take these steps to help students adjust to the new school year.
Have consistent rules and routines. This year it may take anxious or distracted students longer to learn school rules and routines than you would expect. Taking extra time at the start of the school year to help students internalize rules will help things go more smoothly for the rest of the year.
Teach age-appropriate coping skills. Ask the school counselor to visit your class and teach simple ways that kids can help themselves calm down. You might want to introduce a classroom cool-down corner that students can visit when they feel they are about to lose control or incorporate lessons on social and emotional learning into the curriculum.
Communicate with parents. It’s always been important to keep an eye on how students are doing and to talk with a student’s parents if a child is struggling academically, socially, or emotionally. Let parents know if their child’s behavior changes significantly or they seem disengaged from class. Be aware of the types of services your school counselor provides and be able to explain to parents the process for referring their child to the counselor.
What Teachers of Young Students Should Know
The number of kids in preschool programs dropped significantly during the pandemic, and as a result, some PreK students will be less prepared than in past years. In a study of the pandemic’s impacts on kids ages 3 to 5 by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, a high degree of parents reported that their kids had social and emotional difficulties. The number of parents reporting their kids had a conduct problem, hyperactivity, a problem with a peer, or difficulty with prosocial behavior far exceeded expectations, with some categories doubling from previous surveys.
Although kids may have had more time at home with their parents because of closed schools and remote work, the percentage of parents reading to their 3- to 5-year-olds at home dropped from 85 percent before the pandemic to 71 percent during the pandemic. In addition, fewer parents taught their young children letters, words, and numbers during that time, as well.
How Early Education Teachers Can Help
- Inviting students to meet their teacher and classmates in an outdoor event on the school playground, if it’s safe to do so in your area
- Frequently communicating with parents about how their children are doing; and
- Having a predictable routine and structure to the school day.
What Teachers of Middle and High School Students Should Know
With their greater needs for social interaction with peers, many students in middle school and high school struggled with loneliness while learning remotely. Some students reported worrying more about their school performance. Many found themselves spending most of their waking hours online, between school and personal internet use, feeling isolated even if family members were home with them.
How Middle and High School Teachers Can Help
Teachers at the middle school and high school levels can help support their students by watching for changes in behavior and signs of anxiety and depression and understanding their school’s process for referrals to the school counselor.
In addition, teachers can help students by fostering a sense of belonging and connection at school. The CDC’s recommendations for doing this include reinforcing positive behavior and using techniques that are not punitive.