4 Ways to Help Students Through Long-Term Challenges

Kaitlyn MacDonald

This is the year that nothing has or will go as planned. This is a difficult concept to accept as an adult. It can, in some ways, be even more difficult to accept as a child. I am sure many parents have had to face decisions that previously would not have been difficult.

  • Are playdates okay?
  • Is that sneeze just allergies?
  • Can my teenager responsibly distance and keep a mask on when they go out? 

And now, as our Lower School students have returned to campus and our Upper School students anticipate their return next week, Sparhawk has been faced with decisions that in other times would have been simpler, as well.

  • Will everyone abide by safety regulations? 
  • How do we comfort a child from six feet away?
  • What will our students need for support?

Support. We are living through unprecedented times and I hope that soon, we can look back on these months and accept the lessons that they have brought, that we can all be together and reminisce about how we succeeded through it, how we accepted help when it was offered, gave and accepted kindness when it was needed, and pulled each other up rather than down. But for now, we, teachers and administrators and staff and parents alike, must support our students through the long-term challenges that this pandemic has brought. 

Here are some tips that educational experts have recommended in these early days back on campus.

  1. Using hopeful and optimistic language. Have you noticed how all conversations seem to go back to the pandemic? Let us work together to bring a sense of hopefulness to our students about how we are getting through this, rather than getting weighed down by it. This is not to ignore the challenges, but to help our students and ourselves rise up to face them. 
  2. Repetition. Directions may need to be repeated. Communication may need to be duplicated. Tara Haelle writes of this phenomenon as  depletion in “surge capacity”. Our brains can only process so much. If we are trying to remember to wear a mask and keep a distance, it might also be difficult to remember a pencil or a book or a login password. Which brings us to the next tip…
  3. Have patience. We may be six months into the pandemic and these kids may be of the digital age, but, like adults, there are students who have adapted to the changes well and there are those that struggle and there are many for whom the success and struggle change day to day. For younger children we may see this in behavior changes. For older students we see them withdraw. 
  4. Pursue the good over the perfect. We can not forsake the good in pursuit of the perfect. There is nothing perfect about existing through a pandemic. No one has all the answers and no decision will bring joy and acceptance 100% of the time. But we can accept that we are all trying so hard, that we are all striving to do well.  Let’s help our children understand this, as well. They will experience frustration in different ways dependent on their age and it is difficult for some kids to let go of what they imagine something was supposed to be like, feel like, look like, etc. Teaching them how to let go of unrealistic expectations during this time will hopefully bring a sense of ease. We are working to support students' social emotional learning in this area and it will be an ongoing topic throughout the year.

While yes, we have all been living though this time together, we are all individually experiencing the pandemic in different ways. What may be my burden, may be someone else’s respite. No two experiences are identical. No two perspectives are the same. And no one has all the answers. But we can accept that we are all trying so hard, that we are all striving to be great kids, great parents, great teachers, great people. 

Our children will be the generation they will write about:  the kids who survived a pandemic. I hope that, as a result, they will come through this stronger and bring forth good into the world. Let’s start by working together to make their return to campus experience one of support and care. Let us together support one another as we do this important work. We can learn from each other, and together help our kids thrive. 

I look forward to working with you this year. It will certainly be like no other. 


Your Surge Capacity Is Depleted