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Did Pandemic leave a Gap in the Emotional Growth of Our Children?
As children return to in-person school, educators observe that many children appear overwhelmed at the task of lining up, making conversation, and eating with their peers after months of relative isolation at home. It has taken some time for educators to recognize students emerging struggles, especially those related to skills and routines that teachers and staff typically take for granted.
Teachers report that their elementary students have difficulty focusing and attending after returning to the in-person classroom. Some children have seen their parents sick or dealing with job loss. Some have absorbed heated arguments about masks or politics, and some have witnessed family conflicts.
Research done by Education Week shows that the stress and challenges of the pandemic combined with online schooling have led children to struggle with their emotions and with social routines. In some cases, this leads children to withdraw, and in others, it may lead them to act out or seek attention.
Teachers also realize that some of our young students returning to school have minimal experience with the routines of in-person education. Some elementary grade students returning to school this year have never been in the school building. These young children returning to school show difficulty staying on task or navigating their emotions when their peers want to share things with them.
Initial years of schooling are essential for young children’s social and emotional development. Children learn how to take turns, talk to their friends, and indicate their likes and dislikes through school experiences. This critical milestone has gone missing for our young students, and it will take them a while to catch up.
In January, the EdWeek Research Centre published the study showing that most educators report, compared to prior to the pandemic in 2019, their current students’ social skills and emotional maturity levels are much lower. This research comes when educators are designing and adapting a recovery plan, and through this research, we know that our recovery plan at schools will have to emphasize helping our students with mental health, emotional stability and regaining a sense of normalcy.
Generally, Educators are skilled to help students adjust to school. However, it may be suitable to put in a little extra support this year. Here are some tips that may help schools and teachers make in-person learning easier for students.
Teachers may have to pace themselves, allowing children to internalize concepts they may have missed and allow their emotional resolve to grow alongside their academic learning. Teachers might have to make a more deliberate effort to stop and recognize things they need to reinforce.
It will be difficult for schools and teachers to catch up with a year and a half of academics in the next few months; however, focusing on children’s social and emotional needs and helping them cope with their emotional challenges will help educators make academic progress faster.
Schools will need to incorporate social-emotional learning lessons that teach them how to identify and respond to their emotions. Schools can also bring in guest speakers to talk to families about issues like child development.
School can train older students to mentor their younger peers, greeting them in the morning and seeing them off in the afternoons. A trained cohort of students can help their classmates cope with challenges at school and help them find a trusting adult if they have any significant problems.
Older students should be encouraged to talk and ask for help from school counselors about any emotional or social struggles they are going through. This year the school counselors and social workers play a vital role in providing the resource room where students can find support.
Teachers may also have to develop more-informal relationships with students, like making extra efforts to learn small facts about every child. This will help them build a connection with their students in vulnerable moments.
The most critical strategy for educators this year is to listen. By listening to children, we understand what their actual problem is. When we share a positive, trusting relationship with our children, we have an opportunity to really educate them.