COVID-19 and the Lack of Social-Emotional Support
Many parents and teachers feel concerned about the COVID-19 achievement gap. This gap is the disparity in learning loss that students have experienced during the pandemic as a result of struggling to meet their grade expectations. While the COVID-19 achievement gap is a valid concern, several students have also encountered a lack of social-emotional support. Numerous students have experienced stress, depression, and anxiety, yet do not have a support system or resources to cope. This is a common issue among students that deserves as much attention as the achievement gap.
How Limited Social Interaction Affects Students
Since 2020, the CDC recommended that people stay six feet apart from others who do not live in the same household. As a result, the public has found it difficult to interact with one another in person. Multiple K-12 students interacted face-to-face with only their immediate family members throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. They contacted their classmates on Zoom, Google Meet, text, and other electronic means of communication. However, not everyone had access to Internet connection, which complicated the desire to socialize with others. Several people, including K-12 students, navigated through the challenge of maintaining contact with others.
Children need to learn social skills such as showing empathy, handling conflicts maturely, and seeing someone else’s perspective. Though teachers have taught social skills to students throughout the pandemic, online interactions do not always translate to in-person interactions. This is why it is important for parents and guardians to teach children verbal and nonverbal communication. Without practicing social skills, children would not feel mentally prepared for returning to in-person instruction for the upcoming school year.
Inadequate Emotional Support During the Pandemic
Even though many students have felt stressed during the pandemic, some had more stress than others. “Children experiencing or witnessing violence in the home are at a much higher risk of psychological difficulties in their lives” (Ramchandani). Additionally, they could not easily access mental health resources. When mandated reporters such as educators suspect that students are being abused, they can report their observations. However, it has been more difficult to observe students in online settings and to get them the help they need.
According to Paul Ramchandani, the pandemic has greatly affected young children, adolescents who experienced abuse, and homeless children or children from low-income families. The pandemic placed stress and other mental health issues upon parents. “Depression and anxiety in either parent [are] linked to a greater risk of mental health problems in children” (Ramchandani). Children and teenagers learn how to cope with problems by observing their parents’ behaviors. If parents engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms, then their children are likely to follow the same behaviors. This can cause children to disregard people’s feelings or not verbalize their thoughts properly.
How to Provide Social-Emotional Support
As students return to in-person instruction, it is important to remember that they need time to adjust. Therefore, adults should be patient and empathetic towards them. Alex S. Venet recommends that teachers and parents “ask students how they are and listen to their answers” (Venet 23). It may seem like a small step, but students would feel grateful that an adult cares about their mental health. Some students may feel hesitant with being honest about their feelings, which is why adults must establish rapport first.
Teachers and parents can gain students’ trust by teaching them about social-emotional learning, also known as SEL. Social-emotional learning is developing skills in “self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making” (Rosanbalm 2). Adults should teach students how to manage their emotions and to develop a growth mindset. If schools do not have a SEL curriculum, then teachers can use resources such as A Little Spot of Feelings & Emotions Educator’s Guide by Diane Alber. Tutor Zone recommends this guide because it includes lesson plans and other tools to provide social-emotional support to students. Furthermore, teachers and parents may research other resources to help them advocate for students’ mental health. After all, we cannot expect students to perform their best academically if they are not emotionally well.
Ramchandani, Paul. “Children and Covid-19.” New Scientist, vol. 246, no. 3277, Apr.
2020, p. 21. EBSCOhost, search-ebscohost-com.csulb.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=142636737&site=ehost-live.
Rosanbalm, Katie. “Social and Emotional Learning During COVID-19 and Beyond: Why
It Matters and How to Support It.” The Hunt Institute, 2021,
Venet, Alex Shevrin. “SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL SUPPORT AND DISTANCE LEARNING.
(Cover Story).” School Library Journal, vol. 66, no. 5, May 2020, pp. 23–24. EBSCOhost, search-ebscohost-com.csulb.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=142900820&site=ehost-live.
by Melissa M.