I work as a school psychologist, leading the social-emotional learning curriculum for a K-8 private school with a mission for gifted education. Like many other schools, our doors are closed due to the covid-19 outbreak. This week, we are scrambling to put systems in place for our students to learn at home following their spring break. So far, so good: I’m optimistic that we will be able to help students keep pace with our academic curriculum during what we all hope will be a brief time away. But as we work with our students and families to make this transition, I’m finding that curriculum concerns are only a small part of our families’ challenges. Kids are scared. Parents are uncertain. For so many in our community, the world feels like it’s spinning out of control.
In this time of great disruption and great change, students not only need academic support, but they also need support for their emotional well-being.
Some of our families have strategies to contain these challenges, equipping kids with the skills of emotional resilience needed to deal with covid-19. Other families have access to support including professional mental health care. But in many other families, kids are suffering without the tools and resources needed to understand what they are going through.
Chances are you know someone who is struggling. For those of us who don’t feel like we have access to the support we need for ourselves or, especially, for the young people in our lives, here are three, 100% free online tools that can help guide emotional well-being in these times of change:
SPARX was developed by psychology researchers at the University of Aukland as a tool to support 12-19-year-olds with anxiety or depression. The game’s 7 levels take about half an hour each, and help kids practice real-life skills in a fantasy environment.
PersonalZen represents a category of relaxation games, which I highly recommend for young people or anyone who feels unmoored or out of control (like I feel sometimes after reading too much news…). In the game, players follow the path of an underground avatar to a soundtrack of gentle music played over a field of green grass. Researchers from Hunter College and City University of New York showed that 25 minutes of gameplay could reduce stress in patients with acute anxiety.
Unlike the previous two games, Shadow’s Edge asks players to search inside themselves to answer questions about challenging emotional experiences. Players search the city of Shadow’s Edge, which has been hit by a storm, for pages of a missing journal, each of which presents a writing prompt. Users’ answers are stored in a scrapbook, and along the way, players can decorate the city with graffiti, bringing color back to the city.
Dr. Pikiewicz earned her PhD in Clinical Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, CA. She completed pre-doctoral training at the Nan Tolbert Nurturing Center in Ojai, CA, and her post-doctoral internship at the Boulder Institute for Psychotherapy and Research. At both sites, Dr. Pikiewicz worked with a range of adult, adolescent and child clients in individual, couple, family and group settings. She also holds a B.S. in environmental science from Allegheny College and a teaching credential from Western Washington University.