Too Much of a Needed Thing

Photo by Michele Venne

A little fear generally keeps people safe. We look both ways before crossing a street because we’re fearful of getting hit by a car. We eat food that isn’t spoiled because we’re fearful of food poisoning. We wear a helmet when partaking in potentially accident-prone activities (skateboarding, bike riding, horseback riding, snowboarding, etc.) because we fear a head injury. But too much fear keeps us stuck on life’s sidelines and can prohibit healthy engagement with others.

At the end of last school year, students and families and school personnel rode out the unexpected waves caused by the pandemic. Shifting to distance learning wasn’t in anyone’s plans! But for the most part, many made the transition as smoothly as expected (which means bumps, ruts, rocks and logs…). When this school year began, some districts chose to open campuses on the first day, while others continued with virtual classes. Fear over the unknown in how education would happen via computer with students at home was felt by everyone. Graduating seniors had the fear that they wouldn’t graduate or have any ceremony marking the milestone. Parents feared their child(ren) would fall behind because they lacked the support and direct instruction of professional educators.

If one watches or reads any news source, there’s plenty of fear to be had! One way to limit having too much of a needed thing (fear) is to take stock of what the student can control. Depending on the school situation, students may be able to choose when they log in, which classes they’re taking, whether the classes are virtual or through an online platform, how dedicated they’ll be to the assignments and their grades, when and how they connect with their friends and classmates, when or if they seek help from their teacher or a tutor, and how they’ll celebrate when they’ve met their goals.

In an unusual environment where students are forced to learn, all the unknowns and uncertainties can create fear, which can lead to anxiety and depression. Students often don’t have the experience of most adults to prioritize tasks, seek help before things become overwhelming, have habits that help keep uncertainty from escalating anxious feelings, or acknowledging what they can control as a way to squash thoughts that might lead to unhelpful habits. Having a conversation with students who feel frustrated, angry, sad, or anxious about the choices they can make and what they can control may help them find success with school and life.