Addressing Signs of Social-Emotional Distress in Children (Part 2)

Now that we know what the physical and behavioral signs of emotional distress looks like in our students, what do we do to help them cope with these feelings? Learning how to cope with stress is an invaluable skill that students of all ages should be equipped with. We may not be able to change the circumstances or stressors that our students are experiencing, but we can certainly equip our students with the skills and confidence to handle these feelings.

Let’s break it down.

Teach our students to respond to stress in healthy ways…

  • Be a role model: Set positive examples of how you cope with stress. SmartBoard won’t turn on? Name your feelings and vocalize how you’re going to handle those emotions: “This is frustrating. I’ll try again later.” 
  • Provide stability: Create a predictable routine-based environment at school. Many children who do not get that same stability at home will benefit from a reliable schedule at school. Notify students of any changes to their schedule with adequate warning.
  • Be a listener: Some students may just need a trusted adult to talk through their feelings with. Provide other safe adults for students to talk to (i.e., social worker, counselor) if they are not comfortable discussing personal issues with you.
  • Build feelings of self-worth and self-esteem: Let your students know that it is perfectly okay to feel stressed, angry, lonely, or upset sometimes. We all experience these emotions from time-to-time; reassure students that you are confident in their abilities to handle these feelings. 
  • Give students an opportunity for some control: Try creating opportunities to allow them to make their own choices. This could mean providing two suitable options for an assignment submission or creating time for ‘free choice or play’ with reduced or no academic demands.

Research has shown that guided meditation and relaxation exercises, yoga, gratitude writing, and guided imagery have successfully been used as school-based interventions demonstrating positive effects on student stress levels (Maykel, 2018). Need help finding mindfulness activities to use in the classroom? Check out our new Social-Emotional Learning Curriculum. It includes a variety of interactive lesson plans, including guided breathing, stretching, and imagery video activities. 

Remember that we all handle social-emotional distress differently and what works best for one student, may not work best for another. As always, if any changes in behavior persist or if a student is experiencing significant difficulties at school, do not hesitate to consult with other school professionals and parents.


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