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Reduce Student Anxiety (and Your Own) During Uncertain Times

Tips and resources for news literacy, media balance, and healthy communication.

Erin Wilkey Oh | March 8, 2021

As the coronavirus pandemic moves into its second year, many students, teachers, and families face uncertainty about when, or how, their schools will make the transition to hybrid or, eventually, fully in-person learning. The dynamic nature of the pandemic -- not to mention everything from vaccine misinformation to highly politicized debates around school reopenings -- can make for a lot of confusion for everyone, especially kids. As many of us prepare for some form of transition back into the classroom, it's easy for students to find themselves confused or worried as they try to make sense of what's happening.

To help reduce students' anxiety and your own about pandemic-related changes in school, we've put together some ideas and resources focused on news literacy, media balance, and healthy communication. We hope they're helpful as you continue to navigate these challenging times.

Talk about it

Avoiding conversations about what's happening will only increase students' anxiety. It's important for kids of all ages to talk through what they're hearing and get developmentally appropriate information from a trusted adult. Helpful resources to try:

Focus on the facts

For many students, anxiety about the pandemic can be exacerbated by incomplete or incorrect information. Whether it's about COVID safety, the vaccine, or your school or district's plan for reopening, help students talk through the facts about it in an age-appropriate way. For older students, you can share the CDC's website for the most up-to-date information. Helpful resources to try:

Build critical-thinking and news literacy skills

Social media can be a hotbed of rumors and misinformation -- even more so as people are acting and reacting from a place of fear or partisan interest. Guide students to credible news sources and encourage them to fact-check what they see on social media or hear from their friends. If you have time to add some news literacy instruction, consider teaching a lesson so kids can practice these skills. For older students, in addition to our digital citizenship lessons, we have a collection of short, video- and discussion-based news and media literacy activities. From our curriculum, here are some helpful lessons to try (modify for target grade as needed)

Model and encourage media balance

With round-the-clock updates about the pandemic, we may be compelled to keep up with the latest headlines. But a constant stream of updates can often end up making us feel more uncertain or even anxious, rather than informed. It's important -- for both you and your students -- to reflect on how your media use makes you feel. We can all reflect on our media choices and make adjustments to our media use accordingly. For younger kids, the issue may simply be more time on screens in general; older students may need help considering the types of media they're consuming. Here are some helpful lessons to try (modify for target grade as needed):

Stay active and have some fun

When we're feeling worried or stressed, a little distraction goes a long way. Incorporating some physical activity into the school day can be a fun way to lighten the mood. From how-to dance videos to yoga for kids, you can find easy-to-implement activities to get students' bodies moving and their minds calm. Helpful resources to try:

Support parents and caregivers

If parents and caregivers are stressed, kids are going to pick up on it. While it's not your job to manage parents' anxiety, it is important to be mindful of its impact on your students. Keep the lines of communication open as you deal with questions about your school's transition back to in-person instruction. And pass along resources and tips for parents and caregivers to help them deal with the uncertainty of the situation in a healthy way. Helpful resources to share:

Image courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.