Tips for Teachers and Classroom Resources

Research tells you one thing, your emotions tell you something different

By The SHARE Team

Editor’s note: Learning in the Time of Coronavirus is a multi-part video interview series where, in each episode, we interview folks with a unique perspective on how Covid-19 is affecting education across the world – and how we can keep learning in spite of it.

In this episode, Jenna Epstein, Licensed Professional Counselor specializing in dealing with trauma survivors, walks us through her experience as a “counselor, a mom, and just a person,” giving some helpful advice about how we can all stay sane (and productive) amidst the uncertainty.

Click or tap here to see the full transcript.

Patrick: Welcome to Learning in the Time of Coronavirus. I’m Patrick York, Head of Learning Design for SHARE professional learning. In each episode we interview folks with a unique perspective on how Covid-19 is affecting education across the world and how we can keep learning in spite of it.

My guest today is Jenna Epstein, Licensed Professional Counselor specializing in dealing with trauma survivors, and she’s also the principal contributor to the SHARE professional learning course series, Moving Beyond Trauma.

Hi Jenna.

Jenna: Hey everybody. Patrick.

Patrick: So let’s start with.. how is Covid-19 impacting your life and your local community?

Jenna: Well, you know, I think it’s stressful for everybody. And me, even though I’m a counselor, I still get stressed about this stuff. You have to worry about your family, and your work.. in my case – whether my clients are doing okay; how I’m still going to see them. You just generally have to take precautions, like we’ve all been asked to do – all the while still trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy.

I have two little kids and a husband, and we’re all kind of stuck in the house right now.. which is awesome on the one hand, but also a little bit stressful because it’s not our normal routine. We both are trying to get some work done from home while still making sure the kids are taken care of. And, like everybody else struggling with any kind of hard time like this, ensuring we’re monitoring our stress and not getting [the kids] stressed is really important for us. It puts my mom hat in a different capacity, I think, because I’m used to having [the mom and professional] roles be a little bit separate. But when bigger events like this happen, those things kind of combine and get a little tricky, so I’m kind of being a counselor and a mom at home, whilst still trying to just be a person, too.

Patrick: And your unique perspective is that you are a licensed counselor. How is that identity and your work being impacted? And what does your research and professional experience tell you about how people ought to be reacting or keeping in mind?

Jenna: Yea, you know it’s tough. This particular virus is new; new-er than some of the ones we’ve seen in the past. When that happens, people feel really fearful. Part of what happens is our natural instinct, from the time – however you view things, creation or evolution, a combination – our natural instinct is to try to survive. And so when people are afraid, those instincts kick in, and sometimes we see the best and worst of people.

From my [personal] perspective, it’s really tough. I worry about seeing my clients but also worry about my kids getting sick and me getting sick. I worry about my family and some of the older people in it. You know, research can tell you one thing but your emotions tell you something different. And I struggle with that just like everybody else.

From a professional perspective, the most important thing is to remember what you can control and what you can’t. The world is a place that’s constantly in turmoil or chaos. But there’s also a lot of great things happening. When I see clients right now, when I talk to them by phone when we’re checking in, I just say, “This is scary because it’s new. We’re still getting information about it, which is an important thing to remember. But just remember that there are things you have control over in your small sliver of the world. And how do you make that a primary function of your day? So that you still feel like you can live a normal day-to-day life even with this going on.”

Patrick: So, because we have a focus on education and how Covid-19 is affecting access to it; people’s ability to leave their own home; schools being shut down in the US and abroad – what kind of specific advice do you have for teachers, parents, administrators, and other adults communicating with children about the virus in a way that’s sensitive to the trauma that a pandemic like this can cause?

Jenna: Right, right. Well, you know it’s a complicated issue. We all have our past traumas that we deal with. And when we’re working with kids, sometimes, we share their experiences because of either what we’ve been through or what we’re going though currently. And this is a really good example of that. [The pandemic is] something that we’re all feeling the effects of in different ways, and because of that, we’re sharing that experience with the kids that we love or that we work with.

One thing to remember is that [children are] little sponges. They take every bit of information and emotion we can give them. And anyone who’s a parent or an educator knows, when you’re around a kid and you’re stressed, they’re stressed too. And you see that in the changes with their behaviors. So if I were to give one piece of advice to anybody, if you’re at home and if you’re with any kids at all, and you start seeing an increase in some of their dis-regulation, take a step back and survey how you’re doing, too. I would guess, probably 90 percent of their time, their reactions come from how you’re feeling.

And with that in mind, kids nowadays have access to so much information, whether it’s from the internet or the news; from you and you not realizing they’re listening. And sometimes they have questions about that, and they don’t maybe know how to communicate that. So [their behavior] shows how they handle their emotions.

One thing I would definitely encourage people to do is to consider talking to your kids about how much they know. If they bring it up, ask them, “What information do you know about this?” Is it accurate? You know, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. You can encourage this to be a positive experience for them. Build their resilience by making it a learning opportunity you guys can have together. Go online and research. Make sure you guys feel like you’re on the same page about what to do now. And then talk to them about how do we handle this as a family and a community?

I know kids, a lot of times, especially when they’re older children and teenagers, really worry more about their elder family members than they do about themselves. And since one of the restrictions a lot of people have in their communities is getting in touch, physically, with those people, how do you handle that through reaching out to people in a different modality? I know, for me, my parents are a few hours away, and we can’t reach them and we’re all a little worried because of their age. So one thing we’re doing is FaceTiming them! We make sure we have that contact, so even though we have concerns, there are ways to address them that are healthy and appropriate. And it helps your kids learn, “This is how I can behave if this ever happens again. I know from you I’m developing this set of skills.”

One thing that’s a positive out of this experience is that, you know, a lot of people may not have had the opportunity to go through a crisis, so to speak, like this in the past. We have an opportunity to mirror, for our kids, how they can respond in the future if this ever happens again. And by being positive, remembering what we can control on a small level, and getting back to our normal routines with them, we put them in a better position for coping if anything like this ever happens again.

Patrick: Great. Well, thanks for doing this and spending time with us.

Jenna: Thank you!

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