Identifying Social Emotional Problems While Distance Learning
In the past, educators have been the number one identifier of child neglect or abuse because they have their eyes on children more than anyone else. Since the inception of Distance Learning in March, teachers have different connections with their students. We will not be back to full school openings for months after school starts for the 2020-2021 year. It will be important for teachers to look for different signs that a child might be experiencing neglect or abuse. It is predicted that some families may be experiencing heightened discordancy while sheltering at home, and children are now more at risk of being in a traumatic situation. Teachers need to be on the lookout for physical, emotional or environmental indicators of neglect or abuse.
Physical indicators can be detected when conferencing with students virtually or by phone. During a virtual meeting teachers need to assess clothing for inappropriateness and cleanliness, if possible. Our District has a policy that children must be dressed in school clothing, no pajamas. A good way to check is to have a warmup exercise or stretching session with the webcam far enough away so the student’s whole body is visible. It is also safer for their device to have it 6 feet away while in motion. This is also a good time to read the student’s body language for negative emotions or sleepiness. Whether meeting virtually or by phone, teachers can listen if children report issues with physical needs such as hunger, missed medical appointments, or lack of physical exercise.
Emotional clues that a student is struggling is mostly through reports of feelings or observation of body language and tone of voice. Feelings to listen and watch for are loneliness, sadness, depression, lack of motivation, anxiety, or anger. Other indicators are: the student reports that they have had infrequent or no contact with close friends (even virtually); there is a change in behavior; they take inappropriate risks; or, there is no one for them to call on for help. By building a relationship with students, teachers will create an open door for students to reveal problems.
Environmental problems can be detected through student reports of the issue, observations of family members during virtual meetings, or progress made with distance learning. Students may report that they have no food, that their parents are fighting physically or verbally, that they have been cursed or yelled at, that no adult is present, that they must care for a younger sibling, or that a traumatic event has occurred. Parents may also report to teachers about traumas the family is going through such as loss of job, lack of transportation, COVID-19 or other serious illness among family member(s), or even death of a family member. Students may not complete distance learning lessons, or not complete PE lessons.
If you become suspicious of any social or emotional problem, whether it is neglect or abuse or not, ask caring questions and listen for more information. Confer with your school’s social worker, counselor or behavior interventionist.