Impact of COVID-19 and preparing for Term 4

September 23, 2020

As teachers and students take a well-earned break, we wish to send a huge shout-out to teachers who have been working harder than ever to ensure the wellbeing of our nation’s children, as well as managing teaching and learning programs. This is such a challenge when many adults, including teachers are feeling heightened levels of anxiety.

With the many changes associated with COVID-19 such as increased hygiene measures, wearing of masks, restrictions on meeting face-to-face and travel, school closures, lockdowns and curtailing of extra-curricular activities, the usual support structures that help to keep us all grounded are diminished or absent. This disruption to everyday routine and to social connectedness can severely impact resilience and wellbeing for people of all ages. In addition, most children are highly aware of the direct and indirect impacts of coronavirus on their families, friends and our global community. As for the adults around them, this awareness may lead to worry, anxiety and for some fearfulness.

For our young people (and us) feeling overwhelmed or a sense of anxiety may manifest as sadness, impatience, frustration or angry outbursts, conflict between peers or family members, lack of motivation, withdrawal, impulsivity, hyperactivity, pushing boundaries and other forms of acting out.  For children or adolescents already dealing with personal or school issues the huge focus playing out in our daily media can intensify feelings, impact negatively on behaviour, and exacerbate mental health issues.

Many teachers will spend time during the break preparing for further remote learning or a return to on-site teaching. While the curriculum and academic achievement are both important, our knowledge of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs reminds us of the need to attend to relevant physiological needs (food, shelter, sleep, human touch), safety and security, social needs (love and belonging, play, friendship and interaction with peers), recognition, respect for self and others, positive self-concept, hobbies and creative pursuits, if we wish to effectively engage young people in learning.

There is no rule book to help us to manage our daily lives as we navigate the uncertainty and stresses brought about by the pandemic. The following tips offer ideas to support school-age young people whether returning to school or continuing to learn from home.

  • Model, find examples, and promote the fun that can be had (still) through for example, class or school talent quests, construction challenges, trivia quizzes, viewing of engaging screen stories (see the wealth of content provided by the ACTF and the ABC and activities and resources provided by ACMI).
  • Provide conversations and activities that offer a sense of hope and joy each day. Encourage care for others and random acts of kindness.
  • Share books such as the recently published Windows by Patrick Guest which shows how children around the world connect and draw strength from their communities. Encourage students to find other books that offer hope and inspiration about ways to connect with others, or to work with a partner to brainstorm ideas and write their own uplifting stories. Students could make fun book trailers.
  • Build face-to-face (as allowed) and virtual connections, tapping into fun activities in local ‘communities’ – from teddies in the windows, chalk footpath rainbows to spoonville characters and take-home tearable compliments. Inspire children of all ages to dream up ideas for their local communities. Try to get some media coverage. Encourage the writing and illustrating of notes and cards to neighbours, family members, teachers, classmates, residents at local aged care or disability homes, young people in residential care and others, as appropriate.
  • Provide a sense of control. Empower children by enabling them to play a part in managing their own safety and wellbeing. For example, engaging in effective hand washing, sneezing into a tissue and disposing of thoughtfully, use of sanitiser. If age appropriate select, view and discuss relevant episodes from Behind The News to help increase understanding of any issues of concern.
  • Talk about and brainstorm strategies to mitigate and prevent illness. Link to classroom learning by encouraging children to create posters, animations, short video ads and similar to inform, persuade and encourage friends and family to implement COVID-normal keeping safe and well practices.
  • When it comes to schoolwork, even for those learning at school, break each day’s tasks into steps or manageable chunks, but provide further activities for those who wish to delve deeper or extend themselves. Take care not to overload students and their families, who may still be juggling full-time jobs and other children and/or suffering financial or psychological stress. Where possible, provide work at school or home that students can complete independently with some success. Where this is challenging, the task can become the main teaching session for the day. Suggest learners ‘pair-up’ to engage in some learning activities – this can happen even if learning from home (with parent permission) with phone or video calls to plan, share ideas and discuss as tasks are completed together.
  • Celebrate the successes, but normalise the challenges, celebrating the process of having-a-go over and above the outcome. Explore positively the learning that takes place when you make an error.
  • Create new rituals and rites of passage, especially for Foundation, Year 6, 7 and exiting senior secondary students. Perhaps an online concert for littlies sharing poetry and songs, an online gallery sharing and exhibiting creative pieces or work students are proud of for older students, videoed speeches for transition years and reflections on learning, school and friendships for senior secondary students.
  • Encourage students to go outdoors, to move about, exercise and spend time engaging with the natural environment. Create learning activities that make use of time outdoors. Observation of numbers and types of birds at intervals throughout a day, photos of changing cloud formations, sketching of plants, flowers and trees, increasing stamina with physical activities such as number of star jumps, improving bouncing, dribbling or goal throwing skills with basketballs, keeping a balloon or ball in the air.

At this difficult time, even in states and territories with few coronavirus cases, increased levels of stress may be felt by children of all ages, parents, teachers, other school staff and others across our wider community. The focus by media and social channels, along with disruptions to everyday life, and in particular to routines and relationships all take a toll on wellbeing.

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a spotlight on the need for a focus on wellbeing. Self-care is important for all of us, all the time. Find a way to be kind to yourself and at least one other person each day. The benefits to wellbeing will be immeasurable.

Hats off to those schools who incorporate daily activities designed to support mental health, develop a growth mindset and build resilience for the students in their care. A particular accolade to schools who are able to integrate such activities across the curriculum, especially those drawing on the expertise of specialist teachers to bring their creative ideas into the classroom program.

For those of you with students and families needing support, please check out our ebooklets and accompanying resources. And of course, look after your own wellbeing so you are in the best position to support your students, colleagues and your friends and family. A few relevant Psych4schools ebooklets are suggested below. These are available to download by Psych4schools members or for individual purchase from the shop.

  • Working with colleagues, Looking after yourself
  • Working with children who fear life-threatening events (war, terrorism, disasters, pandemics)
  • Working with children who have experienced trauma in the past two weeks
  • Working with children to help prevent anxiety (new edition, book 1)
  • Working with children who have difficulty making friends
  • Working with children separation anxiety
  • Psych4Schools blog Separation anxiety.

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Our very best wishes to you all as you prepare for term 4. Please share your ideas for successful ways to engage your students and to support wellbeing and in turn learning.

Murray Evely

Psych4Schools Psychologist/Guidance Officer