Tips for Communicating with Students
There are so many things out of our control right now, but one thing you can control is communication with your students. It’s natural to want to shield kids from fear, but kids are affected by what is happening around them whether we acknowledge it or not, and not acknowledging it can cause more harm than good.
Addressing COVID-19-related changes with your students
- Be honest and direct. Students of all ages will notice and be impacted by any changes within the school or virtual-learning environment.
Be honest and clear about:
- Why changes are happening as a result of COVID-19, such as modified schedules, social distancing expectations and safety protocols, screening processes, and new drop-off procedures.
- What changes students can expect with virtual learning, such as how they will engage with other students, participate in lessons and submit assignments.
- Keep information simple and developmentally appropriate. Give your students the facts—and only the facts—they need based on what they can handle. (You wouldn’t give a teenager and first grader the same level of detail and information.) Younger kids may be easily overwhelmed, so keep it simple and straightforward.
- Correct any misinformation you hear. Is what your students are hearing about COVID-19 or new school changes accurate? Let your students know there are a lot of rumors and misinformation out there, but you (and other trusted adults) can help them figure out what is legitimate.
- Know it’s OK to not have all the answers. Some students may frequently ask questions as a way to gain clarity or seek reassurance. Be honest with your students about what you know. When you don’t have an answer, let them know that you will update them when there is new information to share.
- Address masks. Staff and students may be required or want to wear masks. Be direct about the reason for wearing them. Particularly for younger kids, find creative ways to help make masks less scary, such as decorating them with fun colors and stickers or making play masks for stuffed animals or dolls.
Facial expressions are a big form of communication. With masks covering a large portion of the face, facial expressions may not be as easily communicated or observed by others. Similarly, using a virtual platform without video means students will not be able to rely on facial expressions and nonverbal cues. Keep this in mind, and make sure your verbal language is as clear and direct as possible.
Talking to students about their feelings
- Be aware of your own feelings and try to stay calm. You are human, and you have feelings. It’s OK and normal to feel overwhelmed or anxious about what is happening; just keep in mind that kids look to adults to see how they should behave or react. As hard as it may be, try to stay calm while talking with your students about how they are feeling. If you’re feeling anxious, wait to talk with them until you’ve calmed down.
- Ask open-ended questions. When checking in with students about how they are feeling, use open-ended questions, and try not to offer suggestions or make assumptions.
- Validate and normalize feelings. It’s natural to want to make kids feel better, but try to avoid dismissing their feelings by saying things like, “You don’t need to worry about it.” Dismissing their feelings doesn’t eliminate those feelings, it only teaches kids not to talk about them. Whether it makes sense to you or not, your students’ feelings are real to them. When they share a feeling, let them know you understand by repeating back exactly what you hear, without judging or interpreting, and let them know it’s OK and normal to feel that way.
- Offer reassurance. Rather than getting lost thinking about the unknowns, one way you can help manage everyone’s anxiety is to focus on the facts, what you do know and what you have control over. Help your students focus on what they can do to stay safe and healthy, such as washing their hands regularly and following the social distancing expectations. You can also remind your students that experts are hard at work keeping us safe and healthy.
- Teach and practice healthy coping skills. No one is born knowing how to cope. We all need to learn and practice healthy coping strategies so that we have a variety of tools to rely on to manage our feelings. Provide simple opportunities for students to learn and practice coping skills regularly throughout the day. It doesn’t have to take long or be complicated. Incorporating coping skills can be as simple as doing a few jumping jacks, practicing deep breathing, taking a mindfulness break, playing some music, getting up and dancing, etc.