Children are more likely to experience higher rates of depression and anxiety when socially
isolated from their peers. This may continue even after the social isolation ends. Social isolation
is the lack of connection between an individual and society, (i.e., a child separated from their
friends during a pandemic). School closures, and the social isolation that accompanies the closure,
may increase mental health concerns in youth. Social isolation, whether voluntary, involuntary,
short, or long term, may impact the individual’s mental health. Lack of connectivity in youth may
also lead to negative self-esteem and fear of others.
Best Practices and Implications for Professional Practice
• Learn what students feel is most stressful and most helpful during stressful events by inviting
them to share how their families and communities are dealing with the COVID crisis.
• Believe students’ stories about family members and others in their community who did not receive
hospital services or who have minimal access to technology to engage in school. Communicate empathy
and concern when these stories are shared.
• Actively seek out resilient behavior from students and reframe cultural responses to stress to
understand how it serves a purpose for managing crises or thriving after a stressful event.
• Provide support and guidance for staff to engage in conversations about how race, gender,
socio-economic status, and other important identities are sources of both stress and strength for
students during a crisis. Similarly, remain aware of how these social identities impact levels of
stress and hopefulness among staff and students.
• Encourage staff to ask colleagues, students, and their families how to make the virtual
classroom more welcoming to students and their families during times when in-person learning is not
safe or possible.
• Actively seek to address inequities experienced by students of color within the school and
healthcare system by encouraging staff to act as advocates for students’ needs and to become
particularly attuned to the most vulnerable student needs.
Safe2Help Illinois Website Resources
- UNICEF Strategies are included here to help adolescents protect their mental health during COVID-19.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration This fact sheet provides tips for coping with stress during an infectious disease outbreak. It describes common signs of stress and how to recognize when it is time to seek help.
- USA Mental Health First Aid The following resources from Mental Health First Aid include tips on managing mental health when feeling stressed during COVID-19, typical reactions to COVID-19 social isolation and how this experience changes thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and self-care strategies.
- National Child Traumatic Stress Network Use the National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s (NCTSN) “Creating, Supporting and Sustaining Trauma-Informed Schools: A System Framework,” to consider how schools can adapt or transform their practices by using a trauma-informed approach to help children feel safe, supported, and ready to learn. It also provides trauma-informed school strategies during COVID-19.
- Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children’s Hospital Pediatric Psychologists from the Center of Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children’s offer tips to help support children and/or teens through the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Sandy Hook Promise This guide includes activities that are aligned to Sandy Hook Promise’s Start with Hello and Say Something programs. These activities also boost essential social and emotional skills needed during times of social distancing. The activities can be shared with students and modelled by trusted adults.
Sample Classroom Strategies
IL SEL Standards:
- Goal 1: Develop self-awareness and self-management skills to achieve school and life
- Goal 2: Use social-awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive
- Goal 3: Demonstrate decision-making skills and responsible behaviors in personal, school, and
These activities can be used to address the Illinois SEL Standards.
a. February 17ᵗʰ is Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) day. Work with students to introduce RAK week at
the school the week leading up to RAK day. Share with students fun ways to celebrate and spread
kindness throughout the year.
b. Implement inclusionary programs such as Sandy Hook’s Start with Hello to reduce social
c. Implement conflict resolution programs such as Peer Mediators to allow student engagement and
involvement in developing norms of behavior and behavioral responses.
d. October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Introduce weekly activities to “encourage
schools, communities, and organizations to work together to “stop bullying and cyberbullying and
put an end to hatred and racism by increasing awareness of the prevalence and impact of all forms
of bullying on all children of all ages.”
o Encourage students to participate in #NOONEEATSALONE by making sure students do not let anyone at
school eat alone in the cafeteria or on a school field trip.
o Have an Anti-Bullying (Cyber or In-Person) poster contest or create an anti- bullying video and
post it using #seeme.
e. Create a positive classroom culture poster to display in the room. Have students play an active
role in creating the norms for a welcoming, positive, safe, and bully free environment.
f. Promote social well-being by incorporating social emotional lessons into all academic areas.
g. Create a classroom procedure to allow students to address grievances to avoid conflicts making
sure all students have safe and positive peer connections.
h. Make sure all students are connected with a trusted adult.
i. Engage in activities to develop the social skills students need to help identify, address (Be an upstander), and prevent bullying.
j. Create opportunities for students to share their feelings. Discuss how those feelings interfere
with their decisions and/or choices. This can be a private or public opportunity.