David R. Johnson, PhD, co-founder Miss Kendra Programs

When schools reopen this fall, social emotional learning (SEL) should be a major priority for schools, allowing time and structured ways for students, teachers, and families to share the aftereffects of COVID-19.

These past few months of the pandemic, people have been calling on every coping strategy available. This is true for adults and children. Until now kids and adults have been dealing with this as well as they can and have not had an opportunity to express their anxiety— bottling it up in the interest of “getting through.”

During this time of social distancing, people have been in their homes more than ever. For some, home is reassuring, while others have experienced a rise in tensions, conflicts, and even domestic violence. These will impact families well beyond the end of the pandemic as a society-wide problem, crossing all socioeconomic lines.

As the physical threat levels begin to drop and people being to get back to work and school, we will likely see widespread concern about people’s emotional health. When our kids return to school — which will be six months after they left — schools are going to have to balance the reassuring structure of getting back to work and letting kids express what happened. And, while there can be some positive aspects to a shared trauma reducing the stress on individuals and bringing people together, these past months can also heighten the loneliness of people who have had individual traumas.

Children who may have suffered divorcee, domestic violence, loss, or financial stress in their homes during the pandemic, may not feel that there is space for them to share their own experiences. The social isolation may have intensified the negative effects for people who have been abused, emotionally blackmailed or faced other traumas. Individual suffering can become even more intense because of all the attention going to the collective trauma, especially for kids who can’t find a space to share their individual experiences.

The virus has been a terrible thing, but children’s individual experiences unrelated to the trauma should not be ignored. Teachers and counselors talking to children should ask not only about the pandemic, but also about the things that may have happened only to them. Asking in a safe way is at the root of a public health approach to trauma and is the first step in helping a child address the toxic stress in their lives.

We are fielding many inquiries now from schools around the country who recognize the tremendous need for increased SEL programs as kids come back to school. The Miss Kendra Program offers a public health approach for schools to engage kids directly in conversations about the shared and individual stresses.

This fall, our team will be working with teachers, school staff and principals in dozens of new schools around the country. We will be training the school staff to use the Miss Kendra program as a safe way to engage in these difficult but important conversations.  For more information about the program, email us at misskendraprograms@gmail.com.