Elementary school students are not defined by anything; they are not set in their ways, and are just beginning to figure out what kind of person they want to be. Assessing students’ current abilities, then developing a plan to teach them to be their best self, builds a solid foundation for their academic career and beyond. The social movements and programs about anti-bullying and mental health awareness are largely focused on teens and adolescents struggling with mental health and harassment. It’s important to address the issues that teens face, but it cannot be ignored that these socially maladaptive behaviors often begin early on in a child’s development.
Learning to communicate effectively about personal issues related to home life, emotional stress, or social conflicts at an early age has a positive impact on the students success throughout life. Counselors play a huge part in early education with the responsibility of teaching children social emotional learning skills falling on their shoulders.
Expectations of Early Ed. Counselors
Direct Student Services:
- School counseling core curriculum instruction
- Direct instruction, team teaching, developing learning activities group activities
- Planned activities outside the classroom promoting academic, career or social/emotional development individual student planning appraisal
- In individual or small group settings school counselors provide planned, short-term and goal-focused counseling.
- Assist students in evaluating interests abilities, skills and achievement advisement
- Assist students in goal setting based on academic, career and social/emotional data responsive services counseling
Crisis Response: provide support and assistance to students and families as they navigate crisis and emergency situations.
Indirect Student Services:
- Consultation, share strategies supporting student achievement with parents, teachers, other educators, and community organizations
- Collaboration, work with other educators, parents and the community to support student achievement
- Referrals, support for students and families to school or community resources for additional assistance and information.
School counselors do not provide or replace therapy or long-term counseling in schools.
However, school counselors are prepared to recognize and respond to student mental health needs and assist students and families seeking resources.
Elementary school counselors are required to be more creative in their approach. They set the foundation for students social emotional development. By creating individual activities and classroom games that retain the child’s attention, counselors can provide education on emotions and social cues through guided discussions.
Because children are still learning to identify their feelings and regulate their responses, this makes it difficult for them to communicate about complex emotions such as guilt or jealousy. Outbursts or inappropriate behaviors are exacerbated by social and environmental factors; if the cause is not identified and addressed, then these behaviors can develop into habitual incidents throughout the students school career.
Lifelong Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Benefits
Learning to practice mindfulness at a young age improves many skills and enables greater strides in their emotional and social development. As described by the New York Times, developing the early habits of mindfulness practice will progress into their behaviors in school, and throughout adulthood.
“Mindfulness — a simple technique that emphasizes paying attention to the present moment in an accepting, nonjudgmental manner — has emerged as a popular mainstream practice in recent decades. It is being taught to executives at corporations, athletes in the locker room, and increasingly, to children both at home and in school…Part of the reason why mindfulness is so effective for children can be explained by the way the brain develops. While our brains are constantly developing throughout our lives, connections in the prefrontal circuits are created at their fastest rate during childhood. Mindfulness, which promotes skills that are controlled in the prefrontal cortex, like focus and cognitive control, can therefore have a particular impact on the development of skills including self-regulation, judgment and patience during childhood.”
David Gelles – Full Article
Age appropriate mindfulness activities are amazing tools to engage children with mental health. Counselors can use activities to drive a discussion or lesson about many social emotional learning skills:
- Self-awareness: identify emotions, recognize strengths, self-perception, self-confidence, self-efficacy
- Self-management: self-discipline, self-motivation, stress management, organizational skills
- Social-awareness: empathy, perspective, respect for others
- Relationship skills: communication, social engagement, building relationships, teamwork
- Responsible decision making: identify and solve problems, analyze situations, reflection, ethical responsibility
In the academic world, mindfulness plays an important part every day by controlling test anxiety and helping students retain what they learn. Instilling these habits early builds a solid foundation for future counselors and teachers to build on. Without that solid foundation students can crack under pressure and develop bad habits or behavioral issues.
There will always be conflicts between students and issues to resolve, but teaching students to be respectful, nonjudgmental, and accepting from an early age in school, leads to students being respectful to others and themselves throughout their school years.