5 Student fears in the wake of the COVID-19 shut down (and how school counselors can respond)

Please enjoy this post by guest author, Ava Sharma.

About Ava Ava Sharma is the founder of HLP Empower, Inc., a student empowerment company with the mission of helping school counselors affect the change that was at the heart of their career choice. 

The coronavirus pandemic has turned our world upside down so suddenly that, even for experienced educators and counselors, comforting students may feel like a very heavy task right now, especially when our own lives are perhaps also just as chaotic.  Understandably, it can be very difficult to think clearly when something unprecedented like this happens, regardless of how commonplace stress was in our lives before.  To help clear the fog a little bit, here are 5 common fears and concerns emerging from students, and some practical tips you can apply to navigate them through it:
  1. Fears about the coronavirus and what’s going to happen.
Regarding fears about the coronavirus itself, the best advice (for them and for us) is to practice cautious bravery, rather than allowing fear to dictate our attitudes.  Of course, this is easy to say, but it’s difficult to know when that line is being crossed.  One thing that almost guarantees that we’ve crossed the line is getting too absorbed by the media’s coverage of what’s going on.  If kids are around it constantly, whether it’s of their own accord or because their parents are glued to the news outlets, the fearfulness can create traumatic responses that can last well into their adult years, and so it’s even more important for them to stay a bit veiled to reality.  Advise them to monitor how much they’re consuming about it, and limit themselves to only what they need to know to stay safe.  It’s also not a bad idea to console particularly anxious students by reminding them that, according to statistics, the virus does not affect them severely at all, but it’s still important to avoid it so that we don’t infect other people.
  1. Distress over social distancing.
Many students are feeling the pangs of having to stay away from their peers and friends, and the hard part is that this is still very early and will likely have to continue for a long time yet.  A comforting approach with this issue is to tell them that although this is difficult, it is definitely temporary, and for the purpose of protection, because otherwise things would be much worse.  Luckily, they have things like facetime and social media (for those old enough) that allow them to stay in touch with their friends.  They can also use this time to try and develop some skills and talents that they’ve always been curious about.
  1. Grief.
Given that COVID-19 has been having a deadly impact on the population, surely there will be children affected by its greatest devestations.  One of the hardest things about grief is the fact that it leaves us feeling like there was so much more we wanted to say, but now it’s too late.  To help your students cope with their bereavement, ask them to write letters to their loved one that they’ve lost, telling them everything they’d want them to know.  Focusing on gratitude, and not as much on the sorrow of the loss can minimize the emotion of helplessness.
  1. Fears about their family’s financial situation.
As heartbreaking as it is that children are sometimes forced to endure financial straits, it’s even worse when they are aware of it.  Before responding, consider if their situation really is as dire as they believe or, if it’s likely that their family has enough savings to carry them through some storms (think middle-upper class).  For the latter case, advising them to try and trust their parents/guardians to take care of them is a good start.  Ask them to think of other times when they were worried about something but everything turned out fine. For the other case, however, where you suspect that the student’s concerns are legitimate and very real, the best advice for them would be to, again, reinforce that they practice being brave above all else, and encourage them to trust themselves enough to believe they will be alright in any situation.  To remain in control of themselves and build up mental strength, it’s imperative that they stay focused on whatever is in their control, which, unfortunately, is sometimes limited to just their attitude.  If they find that their emotions of resentment are too much to contain, then they must be smart and use it to their advantage by channelling it into something for the long term.  Remind them that some of the most successful people to have ever existed, accomplished what they did because they used the negativity of their circumstances as fuel to propel them out of it (citing examples, if possible).  A resource you may wish to consider is HLP Empower’s Resentment Liberation course for students
  1. Worry about academics.
This concern is probably not so common, but we thought we’d add it to the list, in case any counselors are fortunate enough to have students whose greatest concerns are about their academic situation.  Remind them that, luckily, everyone else will be having the same problems with their grades, so no one is going to hold this circumstance against them, and we will get through this.  It might be a good use of their time, however, reviewing what they have already learned since the beginning of the semester, or emailing their teachers to see what the rest of the semester would have consisted of might give them the opportunity to study ahead.   Free Resource: Tip Sheet for Counselors


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