Self-awareness is the key to helping children cope with back-to-school stress

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Credit: University of Alberta

Children worried about returning to school after a year of pandemic lockdown may be better helped by parents and teachers who ground up and introduce themselves, says University of Alberta education expert .

Connecting to how their own bodies react to stress or fear can help adults shed the isolating effects of the pandemic, which in turn helps them cope better with stress or trauma experienced by children, said Alexandra Fidyk, professor at the Faculty of Education.

“Once you are in a harmonious relationship with yourself, you can let your attention shift to others without leaving your body,” said Fidyk, an expert in trauma studies and somatic or body-mind psychology in what concerns teaching, learning, culture. and the arts.

Some young people who return to school will be anxious after a year of home learning, which means the adults around them need to be aware of their own anxieties, Fidyk said.

“When we have experienced fear, excessive worry, or both, we are often deregulated, which means that our physiology has been engaged in fight, flight or freeze reactions or a combination of these. are natural self-protective reactions, but they can be triggered.When we are not in danger, and over a long period of time, fear and worry tire us, constrict us, disorient us, drain us of energy and impact our vitality.

“For the most part, our abilities declined during the pandemic. We experienced less social engagement, so people may have fallen into a sense of isolation or even flooding.”

This means parents may not be in the best frame of mind to help children who are struggling to make the transition from home to school, Fidyk said.

“If we are overwhelmed and a child comes to us and he is also overwhelmed, we are unlikely to be able to adapt to him. The scope and intensity of what we can handle will be smaller.”

Regulate yourself to relate to others

It is only when we feel secure that we can regulate ourselves and then be able to relate to another, validate them or sympathize with them, she said.

One of the most important ways for people to regain their balance is to reconnect with their physique and imagination, suggested Fidyk, whose research explores methods such as body mapping that teachers can use in their classes.

It can be as simple as alternately tapping our thighs for a few minutes while breathing more deeply or moving freely to the beat of pleasant music.

“If we develop a sense of self, for example by noticing the sensations – not the emotions – that occur within us and if we deal with those sensations as needed, then we can be more engaged in the present moment. Doing this helps us regulate ourselves and build our capacity. and resilience. “

With such awareness, more “vividness” comes back, Fidyk said.

“Through connection, the student will feel seen, heard and understood where our presence and our regulation help them feel better. So when they need help, we can actually comfort and reassure them. . “

Some children likely flourished at home during the lockdown, she noted.

Independent learners who have had no problem completing their assignments may have gained a new confidence or voice and perhaps developed new interests, and the incorporation of choices and options into their assignments will continue to encourage this new growth, Fidyk noted.

Others would have struggled.

“Some kids needed structure, predictable routines, and the social engagement that classrooms offered; the students may not be able to complete their homework which could have caused stress. “

Returning to class, children face a new set of worries ranging from catching COVID-19 to leaving the home support systems they have developed over the past year.

“Some will be happy to return to their teachers and friends, but they might also feel scared or overwhelmed.”

They may also find it difficult to return to a more structured environment where they sit at a desk for most of the day.

Other children, especially those who are part of a close nuclear family, newcomer or multigenerational family, might feel lost if they were supported in their learning at home by a parent.

“For some children, there might be a feeling of abandonment if someone at home comforted that student, and the child now leaves that person to go back to school where there is no close relationship. “

Tips for parents and teachers

There are several ways that adults can help keep their feet on the ground and ease the transition for students to school, Fidyk suggested.

  • Make simple, reassuring statements to the children. “Use terms like, ‘You are safe; you are not in danger; you are not alone. Once the connection is established, let them know, “I can hear you; I see you; you can trust your inner voice, ”Fidyk said. It is also important to keep your voice lower and slower; higher scores indicate stress.
  • Add imagination to lessons and activities by inviting the arts to learn, including crafts like knitting, sewing, beading, weaving, or carpentry. Participate in sensory experiences using tactile elements such as yarn, string, fabric, rubber bands, felt and blocks. Also make room for rhythm, entertainment and diverse music such as traditional instruments or earthly sounds. Introduce storytelling through image creation, staging and acting.
  • To help children get used to long periods of time at a desk, teachers can incorporate simple physical movements and energetic breathing throughout their lessons. A good exercise is a butterfly tap on the breastplate: cross your hands at the wrists on the upper chest and alternately tap slowly. “It supports presence and regulation, and therefore attention and learning.”
  • Teachers can start class each day well by guiding students through diaphragmatic breathing. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds, then breathe out through your mouth for four seconds; repeat three to five times. Encourage students to do this themselves if possible.
  • Balance activities so that “lightness and ease” can be brought to a difficult lesson. “If an activity or conversation is difficult, stick with it for a short time, move on to something less demanding, then come back to the challenge. Shifting from demand to ease helps us stay more focused and builds our capacity and resilience. “
  • To help reassure students that they are returning to a safe space, schools should clearly communicate their COVID-19 protocols. “Children need to feel that school is a safe place, and knowing the protocols or practices in place helps them trust what has been said.” It is also important to respond to comments from students, for example if they express the need for a disinfectant dispenser in a certain location. “It’s important to really hear their concern and act on it if possible.”
  • Parents and teachers should strive to keep their feet on the ground through these steps: Create a sense of security by letting your eyes scan your place; move or adjust if you need more distance or need to face a different direction, and ask yourself, “Am I in danger?” Second, check your regulation by moving your attention inside your body and asking yourself what sensations you are noticing. Take deeper breaths if you experience shallow breathing or a rapid heartbeat. “Then you can relate to the world around you and the tasks at hand.”
  • If you feel overwhelmed by what’s going on in your body, let your eyes move around the room, orient yourself, and land on a particular object. Next, name the qualities of that object, such as red, metal, modern — chair. “It takes your attention to the outside ‘here and now’ so that you can become more present, calm, and attentive.”
  • Exercises can help. If you sit regularly and often, swing on your sit bones; press your feet on the ground to bring awareness back to your body, bring your shoulders back to your ears, hold for three to five seconds, then quickly drop down. Introduce two-sided applause by raising your hand above your head or patting your hands on the outside of your thighs or on opposite biceps.
  • Appreciate the silence and quiet time, and take time during the day to take a break. “The more we slow down and reset, the more we change our quality of life. We can start to rejoice over the little things. Go for a walk, say hello to your neighbors, be social, move your body, do arts, engage in Us must rebuild our communities through social engagement, play and movement. “
  • If possible, welcome pets into schools, classrooms, and your home.
  • Use humor, tell jokes and laugh.
  • Prepare, share and eat nutritious foods with family or a friend.

Managing back-to-school anxiety during a pandemic


Provided by the University of Alberta


Quote: Self-awareness is the key to helping children cope with the stress of back to school (2021, September 24) retrieved September 24, 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2021-09-self-awareness -key-kids- face-back-to-school.html

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