While this pandemic has had a significant effect on all of us physically, mentally and socially, it has especially impacted students who are at a crucial point in their personal and psychological development. At Cristo Rey Oklahoma City Catholic High School, it has been very important to us to find ways that we as a staff can support our students and families in navigating this difficult time. Below are some helpful strategies to connect with your student about their mental health:
- Normalize. Let your student know that it’s OK and normal to be experiencing any kind of emotion right now whether they’re sad, happy, lonely, unmotivated, etc. Validating their emotions helps them to feel seen, heard and understood.
- Connect. Help to foster connections your student has to their peers and/or other trusted adults in a safe way. This may look like: safe, distanced activities outside, Zoom/FaceTime calls, porch drop-offs with treats for friends, care packages sent and/or increased family time such as a movie night or game night. You can also help get them connected to their school counselor, a mentor in their church or community or a teacher and/or professor with whom they have a positive relationship. We know that social interactions and relationships are very important for students, especially younger students, and we can be creative with how we fulfill those needs!
- Cope. Help your student identify healthy coping strategies when they are experiencing difficult emotions and encourage them to practice these coping strategies when you can tell they’re having a hard time. You can also build healthy behaviors into your day such as walks outside at lunch, stretches in the morning, healthy meals/snacks, limits on screen time, activities for creative expression, prayer and gratitude practices at dinner or the end of the day. If your student is away at college, encourage them to pick up these easy-to-incorporate routines.
- Structure. We all understand the benefits of structure and routine. Try to help your student get on a regular sleep schedule, a regular meal schedule and regular class schedule, especially on those asynchronous days! Include breaks in their schedule for self-care and personal time.
- Model. This time has been challenging not only for students but also for parents or guardians. When parents and guardians can model healthy self-expression and engage in healthy coping strategies, it encourages their students to do the same. It also helps students to see that we’re all human and none of us can do it without supports in place!
Emily Burchardt, MSW, LCSW, RPT is a licensed clinical social worker and registered play therapist. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Oklahoma and received her master’s degree in social work from Washington University in St. Louis. She has served as Cristo Rey Oklahoma City Catholic High School’s social/emotional counselor for the past three years.