Supporting students through Covid-19
While the whole of society is struggling to manage the changes associated with the Coronavirus (Covid-19), there is no doubt that students doing VCE in particular, are experiencing a level of stress and grief that is unique to them as a group. VCE students are grieving the loss of what they thought their final year of school would look like. In a year that is traditionally highlighted by a sense of connectedness and achieving a common goal, students are dealing with a loss of social interaction and feelings of isolation. Students are experiencing the loss of Co-curricular activities that they may not be part of in the future, and coping with uncertainty around how they will complete the academic requirements of year 12.
This unusual set of circumstances has equally led to a new level of stress and concern for parents as they attempt to support their children during this time. Parents are dealing with their own stresses – financial, health, relationship and family concerns that are placing an enormous load on already stretched emotional reserves. However, there are things that parents can undertake to guide and nurture their daughter to help alleviate stress and ensure that this year continues to be a positive and successful one.
How parents manage stress
Parents are encouraged to ask themselves how they usually manage stress, and what they have noted about how their children manage stress. They are also urged to be aware of the comments they make. Teenagers are extremely sensitive to the moods of their parents. If the adults around them are frequently expressing concern about Covid-19 or talking about how upset they are that activities have been cancelled, then the distress children feel will be amplified. Acknowledging that these things are sad and frustrating is important, but teenagers need to see that it will be okay. Implementing strategies at home – meditation and mindfulness, yoga, taking time to relax, exercise breaks – can help the whole family, and modelling positive coping skills to your teenager sends a powerful message that the situation is manageable.
Make a plan
Psychologist Andrew Fuller, when considering how parents can support their children through VCE, writes; “Parents have a vital role in helping students manage time, manage energy, manage stress and manage to get everything in at the right time and in the right place”. Mr Fuller recommends that parents sit with their VCE child at the start of the year to develop a common understanding of how their week will look in terms of study, co-curricular and social activities. It is now time to go back to that plan, or to make one if necessary, that allows for the changes that are occurring during the remote learning program.
The instability created by Covid-19 means this is a time where parents are recommended to provide as much structure as they can for their VCE student. Having set times for family meals, exercise, and study, while allowing time for online social interaction and time for the family to do other things together can make a huge difference to a student’s feelings of control and ability to manage successfully what is required of them. Any plan is encouraged to be realistic and allow for the things that the teenager wants to do as well as what they need to do. Ensure that the plan supports regular sleeping patterns, and regular breaks between study sessions. Ideally, 40 minutes of study should be followed by a 20-minute break chatting to family, getting a drink or spending some time outside. Such plans are most successful when communicated to, and supported by, the whole family.
Communication is key
While many parents quite rightly feel that they want to respect their VCE student as an emerging adult, and do not want to “push” their children to talk to them, waiting for your teen to ask for help can backfire. Take the first step – but timing is important. If you are going to talk to your teen or make a request, choose a time they are relaxed and not in the middle of something else. Speak somewhere private where they are comfortable, and ask if they have time for a chat. Do not use small talk – teenagers can get anxious when parents suddenly want to talk so be upfront and tell them that you want to check in with how they are coping. Aim to use open-ended questions and listen without judgment. Validate feelings of grief and loss – things do feel unfair, and problem solve together. It is important that parents do not try to solve the problem for their teen, but instead ask the student what strategies they have used so far. Offer to make suggestions if they are stuck, but if they do not want your ideas, work out together whom they would like to speak to about it. Most importantly, persevere; even if it is just regularly popping your head in to your teen’s room to let them know you are available to them.
Be the voice of reason
Finally, it is vital for parents to be the voice of reason in what can feel like an unreasonable time. Acknowledge that it may not be possible to fix an entire problem, but that there may be aspects of the situation that can improve. Remind students that they are not in this alone, that every student is in the same situation right now and that they have teachers and an entire school system working hard to create successful outcomes. Encourage them to discuss concerns with their Head of Year.
Most importantly, remind students that this is a temporary situation. Acknowledge that while it can feel never-ending, students will get through it and go on to further study, work or whatever they were planning before the virus emerged, and that there are many people working to support them to do this.
Further information on dealing with stress for students will be available through the Counsellor’s Corner on the student Learn@Home Wellbeing page, and support is always available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.