How Teachers Can Help With Holiday Mental Health

Some students rely heavily on school to take a break from their home life, and during the year of remote learning, these students may be struggling. Even students who don’t have rough home lives may also be struggling this holiday season. This season is unlike any other. Children may be unable to see their grandparents, and their parents may not have had the budget for Christmas shopping. 

As a teacher, you have the chance to help them emotionally as best as you can. It may be a bit trickier to help your students’ mental health over Zoom or Google Meet, but you can still help. It’s important to remember to take care of yourself, too, though!

Know the signs of a distressed student

Sometimes, a student will hide their internal crises really well, making it almost impossible to detect. Other times, it will be plain as day that they are going through a rough time. Regardless, it’s important to watch for even the most subtle of signs. We have a blog post about student referrals that also includes signs to look out for, but we will include a list here as well:

  • Frequently thinking/talking about problems
  • Change in personality/actions (a quiet student becoming loud, or a louder student becoming quiet)
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Speaking as if no one cares for them, nobody will notice if they were gone, etc.
  • Threats of suicidal and other self-harming behaviors
  • Sudden change in social life (not being with friends, for example)

Your gut reaction to these behaviors may be to reach out to family members, but it may be better to reach out to the student themselves. It is possible that you’ll get some pushback, but in many scenarios the student will be happy that someone noticed their struggle. Reaching out to a student first may also build some trust, which is crucial in scenarios like these.

How to help their mental health

When this trust is built with your student, they are more likely to come to you for help. You will want to help them as best as you can, but it’s important to remember that you’re not a counselor; there’s only so much you can do. Here are some tips for how to help your student without burdening yourself too much.

  • Show that you care and are willing to give them time and attention
    • In many situations where a student is struggling, all they want is to simply be heard and cared for. 
  • Be non judgmental, calm, and accepting
    • It’s important to listen when they come to you with their problems. They will likely be reluctant and scared to reach out because they don’t want an overreaction. Show them that you just want what’s best for them without any judgement.
  • Identify how and when to reach out for more help
    • You can do this by encouraging the student to reach out to a guidance counselor, welfare advisor, or even a friend if the situation is less severe. Remember that you don’t have to deal with the situation alone; if you feel like your student is in danger, report it to the principal so the school can intervene.

It can be easy to feel guilty after referring a student, but remember that you are referring them for not only their wellbeing, but yours too.

Other ways to encourage wellness in your students

You can help prevent extra stress with some of these ideas:

  • Take pressure off your students if possible
    • This means refraining from big assignments close to the holidays. 
  • Reward your students for reaching milestones, or finally figuring out an assignment they struggled with
  • Encourage breathing exercises, especially during stressful situations
  • Give time for your students to talk (and remind them to ask for help)
  • Emphasize helping others
    • It’s amazing how much an act of kindness can help your mood!

Final thoughts

Your students’ mental health is important. Flourishing in school is difficult if your mental health is suffering. As their teacher, you have the ability to help, but you should acknowledge your own limits. It can be overwhelming to take care of your students’ assignments, help them when possible, keep up with your own deadlines, and of course, manage your own life. That’s why we have a post detailing some self-care tips for teachers

If you are looking for a way to easily and efficiently refer any struggling students, you should take a look at our Student Assistance Program, aSAP! This program allows you to streamline the entire student assistance process from start to finish. It’s completely electronic, and allows you to easily collaborate with your team.