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How to help pupils cope with stress and anxiety throughout Covid-19 - and when they return to school

09/06/2020

With the outbreak of Covid-19 came an unimaginable transition from classroom teaching to online learning for students across the UK. The response from schools and educational staff throughout this change has been nothing short of inspiring. With very little notice, teachers took on the challenge of online teaching and have helped to maintain some stability for pupils during this time of uncertainty.

As many teachers, teaching assistants, supply teachers and educational support staff continue doing a brilliant job of providing their students with an education during the Covid-19 outbreak, there will likely be questions about they can help pupils cope with stress and anxiety. And with many pupils and teachers returning to schools as lockdown eases, there remain challenges around supporting pupils with any feelings of fear and uncertainty they may be facing.

First, we must understand why they might be experiencing these feelings so that we can help the pupils understand it themselves. Once students begin to recognise these feelings they can start to incorporate activities into their daily routine – such as video calling their friends or taking some deep breaths.

Read on for more practical tips to help your pupils cope with their stress and anxiety and how you can create stress management strategies with them.

Understand why pupils are stressed and anxious

Unsurprisingly, when the Children’s Commissioner surveyed school students they found a correlation between the outbreak of Covid-19 and stress. For these pupils, the virus is the main source of stress and anxiety right now but for many different reasons. By beginning with understanding what these reasons are, teachers and parents will gain the insight needed to help them overcome the challenging emotions.

Here are some causes of stress and anxiety for pupils during Covid-19:

  • A change in routine
  • They’re missing their friends
  • Online learning may bring some frustrations for them
  • They’re confused why we are in lockdown and unsure of when it will end
  • Worry about family health
  • Exam pressure

Help them understand what stress and anxiety are

Feelings of stress and anxiety may be new for some students, while for others they may be experiencing a heightened sense of these emotions during the lockdown. To help pupils cope with these feelings you should first get them to understand the common reactions – behavioural, physical and psychological.

Physical – a rise in the production of cortisol and in turn increase in heart rate.
Behavioural – difficulty concentrating or experiencing sudden mood changes.
Psychological – stress and anxiety can lead to panic and the worry that something bad will happen.

Prepare for stress and anxiety related to returning to the classroom

As of June 1, primary schools will reopen as part of a conditional plan to ease lockdown. Reception, year 1 and year 6 pupils will be back in the classroom, which may be exciting for many pupils but frightening for others. Back-to-school anxiety can occur in pupils of all ages at any time, and may be heightened due to the uncertain situation we have found ourselves in. Teachers, teaching assistants and supply teachers can help to alleviate this.

A top NHS doctor has warned that children may suffer from pandemic-induced anxiety when they return to school, and advises regular talks with children to help alleviate this. Look out for behavioural and emotional difficulties as a response to stress and think about the underlying reasons for behavioural challenges before responding to them. Clear and consistent boundaries still apply, but you should also practice empathy and think about why pupils may be acting out. If you suspect pupils need mental health support or you have safeguarding concerns, follow your school’s usual processes.

Finally, remember that anxiety and stress are normal responses to what is quite an abnormal situation. Your focus as a teacher should be on nurturing pupils as well as helping them to catch up academically, giving pupils time to readjust and ensure they have space and time to discuss their feelings and experiences. This can help them to re-establish social skills that they may have missed out on away from the classroom.

Ways to reduce stress and anxiety

Doing something they enjoy

When it comes to reducing stress and anxiety, what works for one person may not for another. Similarly, some techniques will be far more effective for younger pupils than adults.  Young Minds surveyed young people with mental health needs to understand which activities helped them during the lockdown and found that video calling their friends and watching TV were the two most helpful – for both 72% of young people agreed that these had a positive impact on their mental health. Implement fun activities in the classroom when you return to help give pupils positive associations with school.

Making a self-soothe box

Encourage your pupils to create a box filled with things that will lower their stress and anxiety levels. Young Minds explains that a self-soothe box should contain items covering the range of senses - a stress ball or fidget spinner to touch, a bath bomb or calming essential oil to smell, pictures to look at or positive quote cards to read, and perhaps a wind-up music box to listen to.

Calming cards

Set your pupils the task of writing out 10-20 cards, each with an activity they find calming. Make this a group activity task and ask your pupils to brainstorm up to 30 activities in their team and each pick their favourite ones to write down. Some examples include:

  • Take 10 deep breaths or use breathing techniques
  • Drink some water
  • Read a book
  • Think of one thing you’re grateful for

Creating a stress management strategy

Encourage your students to write out a stress strategy that is personal to them and will help them manage these emotions during the Covid-19 outbreak. Like the self-soothe box and calming techniques, this will be a personal plan that they should take some time on to reflect. Here’s an example of a stress management strategy:

  1. Rate my levels of stress on a scale of 1-10. How does it compare to yesterday?
  2. If my level of stress is higher than yesterday or has remained the same, pick an activity that will reduce it.
  3. If my level of stress remains high, use my calming technique cards.
  4. Remember I can always speak to friends, parents and teachers for advice.

Teaching Personnel are here to help

Whether you need some tips for online teaching, advice on coping with stress or help finding your next supply teaching job we’re here to help. Browse our blogs for more information on supporting your pupils through Covid-19 or contact us today to discuss your teaching career. Are you interested in taking your teaching online? Register for online teaching with us.

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