Troubled Minds Worsen
During Troubled Times:
How to Help Emotionally Disturbed Students
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If you find the current time period to be a turbulent time, consider the impact of the commotion on students with troubled minds. The impact can be considerable. Given the monster storm, Harvey, that is currently devastating a significant section of the United States, this article is meant to be timely help for anyone who works in the affected region. The article should still be relevant for anyone who works with severely emotionally disturbed (SED) students, or youngsters who struggle with anxiety, trauma, depression and fear.
Hello from Youth Change Workshops Director, Ruth Herman Wells, M.S. In this article, I'm going to cherry pick some of the very best interventions for severely emotionally disturbed students and other populations who can be dramatically affected by turbulent times. If you want more than the handful of strategies included here, come to our Portland, Oregon Breakthrough Strategies to Teach and Counsel Troubled Youth Workshop on October 12-13, 2017. In that professional development workshop, you will learn 200 more strategies to help troubled students, as well as those who act out, are bullies, disrespectful, truant and failing academically. Financial aid scholarships for the live workshop are available by making a quick phone call to us at 800.545.5736.
A quick shout out to Texas and Louisiana teachers, counselors and others affected by Hurricane Harvey:
We will welcome you free to our October, 2017 Portland Breakthrough Strategies Workshop, without any charge, if you are a teacher, counselor or other youth professional from Texas or Louisiana with a work address in the region gravely affected by the hurricane. Email us your name and contact information to sign up for free. It is our attempt to give back to a region that has supported our workshops for decades.
Troubled and SED students often have substantial difficulty succeeding in school even during the best of times. During more difficult times, their performance and attendance can plummet. Here are some of our best methods to help emotionally disturbed, traumatized, depressed and fragile students who are struggling more as the world around them gets more turbulent.
Strategies to Help SED Students and Others
Affected By Turbulent Times
Become a Landmark
Being a troubled or severely emotionally disturbed (SED) student is kind of like riding a merry-go-round. For the child or teen, the world is kind of spinning around. To help, become a landmark so that the child doesn't feel so adrift and disoriented. You can become the place to turn when the child's anxiety, fear, angst or life events become overwhelming. As you become a reliable point of calm in the storm, the student may eventually learn to extrapolate that calm to other parts of their life. Be sure to specifically make these points with the student so they understand that yes, their world can seem to spin out of control, but you have to look for a place to shelter from the storm, and that place can be you and your classroom or office.
Look for the Helpers
Mr. Rogers, the TV children's program host from years ago, always used to say in his most soothing voice: During times of chaos, tragedy and catastrophe: Look for the Helpers. It was a genius idea. By helping upset, troubled and disturbed students focus on the one part of the situation that is positive, it can reduce their fear, anxiety and trepidation. For emotionally disturbed students and other youngsters who struggle, the more their emotions are within a tolerable range, the more they can focus on school work. The reality is that all students will need the life skills taught in school, and that includes those who are living with violence, a weather-related catastrophe, family problems, mental illness and other life challenges. Assisting your SED students and others to self-soothe will reduce the amount of suffering they experience while potentially freeing up additional energy for school.
Find Their "Salt"
For troubled students, it can be hard to care about or work in school. The old saying that "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink" is the perfect illustration. However, what would get that horse to drink? Salt. See if you can find what is the student's "salt." It could be getting them excited about a career goal that requires education. It could be having them read about Maya Angelou and others who rose above tragedy and trauma to greatness. It could be helping them escape the world through music, poetry, art or literature. It can be using their exposure to fire fighters and police, to learn about becoming a public safety worker when an adult. If you can believe that all students have things they care about, your are much more likely to help students to identify those valued things, and then you can use those things to convince the child that education is a way out of the pain– and the best and fastest way forward to a better future.
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Troubled Minds? Meet Mindfulness
By now, the Mindfulness "revolution" has probably reached your part of the world. Mindfulness is the ideal intervention strategy to offer students with SED, anxiety problems, depression and similar. One of the key elements of mindfulness is to help the student stay focused on the present. In this current moment, the child is safe, has been fed, and is warm and dry. Help the students to focus on what is happening right now and to avoid worrying about the past and future. That can sound like a tough sell but you can also use meditation techniques to make that goal more achievable. Meditation can consist of having the child breathe slowly, eyes closed (if willing), while focusing on nothing but the breath for just a few minutes. Countless studies document that meditation can reduce specific problem feelings like anxiety, fear and worry.
Studies often document that when children and teens in pain turn their attention to helping others, they feel better themselves. So, this is the perfect time to have your students create and implement a project to benefit those affected by Hurricane Harvey. This effort can become the perfect way to teach your fragile and troubled students that "helping others helps you too."
Bloom Where You're Planted
For students whose difficulty appears to be long term, teach them to "bloom where they're planted." For example, if a child is likely going to remain in difficult conditions in the Hurricane Harvey flood zone for a while, teach the student that they can go through the experience the "hard way" or the "easier way." They can be miserable the entire time or they can look for anything positive. For example, the student may miss their home that is now unlivable, but they may really like living with their cousins and having someone to play with all the time. Teach students to keep looking for that positive among the negatives and once they find it, to focus on it. This intervention strategy can help some students avoid sinking into prolonged, deep depressions. Many recent neuroplasticity studies have established that it is possible through effective thought management to reduce the amount of depression a child experiences while building up the brain pathways that focus on the positive. Physical activity combined with talking, thought management and mindfulness is a potent combination that can definitely help over time. Without these evidence-based techniques, students are statistically quite likely to continue to struggle emotionally and to worsen over time.