Since the pandemic started in the spring of 2020, there has been a significant focus on mental wellness. This is primarily due to the impact of quarantining, social distancing, school closings, and the physical effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the pandemic continues over a year later, educators have noticed that students and their families continue to be affected by the other changes to the normal routine. Parents may be feeling the effects of the pandemic as some lost their job, moved in with family members in need of care, or are limited in home goods such as food, internet, and school materials. All of these changes in routine and structure can cause stress and other physical effects on family members. For these reasons, family wellness has become a concern in and out of the classroom.
Why is Family Wellness Important?
For most students, the family structure is a source of comfort and stability. When that sense of normalcy is disturbed due to illness, loss of job, or other stresses in the home environment, children become unable to focus on school work. Unfortunately, the pandemic has added many of these stresses to the family structure.
According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, psychological and safety needs must be met before anyone can be motivated to learn. Unfortunately, these are two of the primary areas affected by the pandemic. When students come to school with concerns about their family’s financial, emotional, and health struggles, they will not focus as much on lessons and learning.
Schools often know of community resources and can share these supports that can promote family wellness. Teachers must be trained in recognizing when students show signs of hunger, fatigue, and other crisis-related behaviors so they can connect families to the related community resources promptly.
What Should You Be Asking About and How Frequently?
While educators have the intent of helping families in crises, they must be careful not to come across as intruding in a family’s personal affairs and avoid mistakes in parent-teacher communication. Likewise, many people, especially those who have never required assistance before, feel uneasy accepting support even in times of need. For these reasons, a teacher must be upfront in letting families know what supports and resources are accessible and make the inquiry for everyone, not just a targeted few.
Questions should be limited to less than five so that a family doesn’t feel like the teacher is prying for too much personal information. Questions that can be asked in an optional survey or during a conference might include:
- Do you need any information concerning COVID-19 symptoms, side effects, or testing?
- Has the pandemic caused any changes to your family structure for which you might need assistance? (need for additional food, learning tools/resources for your children, emotional support, etc.).
- Are there any changes of which your child’s teacher needs to become aware?
Ways to Check on Family Wellness
There are multiple ways to check on the family wellness of students by using engagement.
Begin the year with a phone call to students’ homes. This allows you to introduce yourself and establish a positive interaction before any needs arise that might need addressing. This first call should be very informal and focus on classroom structures and expectations. Continue building relationships with families through frequent communication.
A brief monthly phone call check-in can allow a teacher to share concerns about a student’s academic progress and check on family needs. A weekly rotation can be developed not to call all parents within the same week.
Frequent Written Communication
Parents like to be informed of what is going on within the classroom and often develop trust through communication. Whether it is through a newsletter or a virtual platform, weekly information that is shared will allow the teacher an opportunity to ask questions about wellness without seeming intrusive. Each week’s newsletter could contain a section on family wellness which includes an available resource and a number to call if parents have concerns or needs that require support.
Teachers are usually very good at observing changes in student behaviors. Looking for signs of hoarding food, lack of sleep, or hygiene needs might be signs that a family’s dynamics have changed and assistance might be necessary. Use these observations to approach parents with concerns and offer available support.
Provide Opportunity for Anonymous Support
Some parents will be uncomfortable asking for help. It is essential, for this reason, that parents can access a list of support anonymously. It could be linked on a school website or a handout of available community resources; either way, families should be informed of various supports and the ability to contact them while protecting their identity if so desired.
When students’ needs are met, they can better focus and progress academically; family wellness is a critical component of a child’s learning ability. Teachers who establish a sense of caring through relationships will offer support to families so that they can help ease anxiety and issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.