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COVID-19 has thrown education for a loop, and paying attention to mental health is critical--these SEL activities can help students maintain peace

10 SEL activities for students

COVID-19 has thrown education for a loop, and paying attention to mental health is critical--these SEL activities can help students maintain peace

We are all dealing with high levels of stress right now. On top of normal pressures, current events are causing stress related to job and financial worries, health risks, and disruption to our normal routines. We need to find ways to effectively manage our stress—and practicing SEL activities can help.

During these uncertain times, it is critical that educators find ways to effectively manage and reduce stress. It is also critical that we help students do the same. Just like with adults, if students’ stress goes unmanaged, it can lead to anxiety and depression and can cause harmful physical effects. It can also increase students’ risk of dropping out, substance abuse, and suicide.

Related content: 10 SEL activities for teachers

As an educator, you are in a unique position to provide stability and support to your students and their families during uncertain times. One of the best ways you can help students is by looking after their social-emotional health.

Here are 10 SEL activities to help your students learn effective stress management.

1. Help students understand what is happening. A simple and age-appropriate conversation about what is going on and why their routine is disrupted can help alleviate students’ anxiety and stress. Send home talking points to help parents talk to their students about what is happening in a constructive way. If you have a school or class web page, keep it current with the latest information about your district’s plans and available resources.

2. Host morning meetings. Morning meetings are an important way to stay connected during in-person and virtual learning with your students and address any issues they may be having. Spend some time at the start of the school day to check in with students. This can be a time to address any issues they may be facing, talk through their feelings and emotions, and practice social-emotional skills. Morning meetings can strengthen student-teacher relationships, increase social awareness and self-efficacy, and reduce stress.

3. Promote a growth mindset. Research shows that a growth mindset can help students maintain a sense of control over their lives, and it addresses the cognitive causes of stress within the brain. Growth mindsets allow us to see the world through a lens of growth, which means we have the power to turn our thoughts from a negative focus induced by stress to a positive focus striving toward improvement. Help students develop a growth mindset by teaching them to focus on the positive and view challenges as opportunities for growth, rather than threats.

4. Teach through games. Games are a fun and interactive way to teach students social-emotional skills like self-management. Here are a couple of our favorites:
Coping Skills Bingo: This free game teaches students how to manage anger and cope with stress in a fun, interactive way.
Stress Management Escape Room: Students engage in hands-on, interactive puzzles that explain the biological stress response and how to manage stress by getting organized, doing exercises or yoga, relying on social supports, etc.

5. Encourage students to get enough sleep. Younger children need 10-12 hours of sleep each night and high school students need around eight to nine hours. Talk to students about why getting enough sleep is important for their physical and mental health.

6. Teach mindfulness. We can help students reduce the negative effects of stress through mindfulness. Mindfulness involves an awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations and how they can impact your actions. This framework has been proven to help students recognize triggers and changes within their bodies, which can help them calm and regulate their emotions before they act on a trigger in a negative way.

7. Encourage students to be smart about social media. We are realistic — we know that no matter what adults tell students, there is little chance they will stay off of social media. But we can teach them to be smart about using it. We can help them understand that too much media exposure (especially on social media) can increase stress and anxiety. We can teach them how to access reputable news sources like the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization to get accurate information. And we can teach them to be safe online. Being smart about using social media can keep students safe and grounded and can reduce negative effects like stress and low self-esteem.

8. Practice deep breathing. Deep breathing works just as well for students as it does for adults. It can have a powerful physical effect in reducing tension and relaxing the body — and it can have immediate results. Clinical research shows that regular deep breathing exercises affect the heart, the brain, digestion, and the immune system. They can have immediate results and can also be used to reduce the production of harmful stress hormones. Teach students deep breathing techniques to calm down and reduce stress.

9. Teach visualization. Day-dreaming in class is sometimes ok! Visualization involves using mental imagery to achieve a more relaxed state of mind and can be an effective way for students to de-stress. This free lesson plan guides students through the process and has them use visualization to improve reading comprehension.

10. Be a listening ear. Some students don’t have an adult at home who they feel they can turn to in times of need. Encourage students to talk to you about their feelings so you can work through any concerns they may have. During remote learning, keep the communication going through email, online chat, text message, virtual meeting spaces, or an old-fashioned phone call.

We are certainly going through challenging and stressful times. Put your social-emotional skills to work and develop a plan to tackle stress before you get overwhelmed. We hope these de-stressing tips are helpful to keep you and your students happy and healthy!

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