Deborah Cohen, Ph.D., Oakwood School Counselor
Over the summer, I worried a lot about our students. I wasn’t sure what life had been like for them since we left school or how COVID had impacted their families. I could imagine, but didn’t know what kind of trauma, grief, or anxiety the children would be bringing back with them when they returned to school. I wondered if the kids would show up at Oakwood, manifesting COVID stress as visible angst or acting out. I also wondered how our students would manage wearing masks all day. Having experienced first-hand the exhaustion of continually wearing a mask, and knowing that many students have sensory issues, I felt uneasy about the feasibility of this necessary protocol. In short, as September approached, I was apprehensive that Oakwood students would return to school stressed, strained, and struggling to make sense of world events that they couldn’t easily understand or put into words.
Two full months into the school year, I am so happy to report that our students seem to be doing very well! That is not to say that life is stress-free or without ups or downs or that issues kids struggled with before the pandemic are no longer issues. However, from a social-emotional perspective, the kids look good. For the most part, they seem happy, optimistic, and engaged in school.
How do I know this? For starters, I have received no more requests than usual for emotional support or help with behavioral issues. When I walk through the halls or observe kids on the playground, I see joy, fun, and positive energy. The kids have quickly adapted their playground games to maintain social distance. And while it is odd to see kids playing with masks on, they don’t seem overly bothered by having to wear them. In fact, they have been surprisingly compliant with wearing masks, washing their hands and using hand sanitizer. We are routinely reminding them to stay 6 feet apart, but all of us struggle with that. Most significantly, the students are generally cheerful and cooperative, in spite of the restrictions.
What makes my heart the happiest is how students respond when I ask, “What’s good in your life?” They enthusiastically list many things they have done or that they are looking forward to. They relay seeing friends and family, going camping and hiking, taking care of cats, dogs, lizards, and virtually connecting with each other. Almost unanimously, the kids say they are happy to be at school in person. When they share what they are happy about and make connections with each other in my class, things seem normal.
I attribute this great outcome to you, their families, and the security, love, and normalcy that you have provided during this crazy time. It also appears that a 5-day-a-week, consistent school schedule agrees with them!
So, my advice as we enter this holiday season is: Keep doing what you’re doing! However you are maintaining normality, reinventing traditions, and nurturing your children is working. They are stepping up to the challenge of this time and look resilient. If you want some thoughts about how to keep the momentum going and how to build even more resilience and well-being, read below for some suggestions!
- Continue to shield kids from news about COVID. The media is reporting that we are moving into a bad phase, with more cases and deaths predicted over the next few months. This information will likely increase anxiety for anyone who hears it. To the extent possible, try not to broadcast the news or discuss these dire predictions in the presence of kids. Though it may seem that they aren’t listening or are letting it wash over them, they may very well be taking it in and privately worrying about it.
- Ask your children about their mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is a research-proven technique for improving mental and physical health, and it is taught and woven into the daily routine at Oakwood. Ask your kids to tell you what they have learned about mindfulness and to teach you some techniques. This will reinforce their learning and help them to see mindfulness as a part of a healthy lifestyle.
- Practice gratitude and positivity with your children. Intentional gratitude is correlated with feelings of well-being and happiness. We are routinely guiding Oakwood students to focus on what’s good and to count their blessings. This intentional gratitude practice is a great life skill and fits in perfectly with the spirit of the holidays. It also is a proven technique for inducing a positive mood!
- Engage your children in helping others. Helping others is associated with lower stress and depression and higher self-esteem and emotional well-being. Helping others also gives us something active and positive to do at a time when we are feeling out of control. During the holidays, there are many ways to give back and help others as a family, such as donating food to food pantries, toys to children in need, and warm clothing to homeless shelters. It is great to involve kids in caring for others as it gives them the sense that even when things are uncertain, we can still be kind and helpful and contribute to making the world a wonderful place.
I am so pleased that your children appear to be doing so well during this difficult time. Certainly, if there are ways that we can support your student or family, please let us know. I hope that you enjoy the holidays and keep doing what you’re doing because you’re doing a great job. Let’s keep getting through this #OakwoodTogether!