Ashley Connolly on Working with Students to Develop Self-Care Habits

What a year it’s been – there hasn’t been one person unaffected by COVID-19, and that includes school psychologists. While school psychologists generally focus on the academic and behavioral success of students, it is vital they also focus on self-care. It can be easy to ignore taking care of oneself after a long day or week of ensuring others’ needs are met, but unless self-care is a priority, the dreaded burn-out is inevitable. Between being an intern, a mother, a Zumba instructor, and juggling the challenges of remote learning, self-care has been a lifesaver for me this year. I also believe it is a lifesaver for students.

One student who comes to mind is an eighth-grade female I have been doing individual counseling with for the past few weeks. She normally has wonderful grades, but remote learning due to COVID-19 has her feeling isolated, anxious, and unmotivated to do her schoolwork. What students have faced this year is unprecedented, so it is not surprising she feels this way. As part of her counseling homework, I have asked this student to schedule daily pleasant activities. I told her to find something she enjoys doing and schedule it into her day, write it down, and share it with me the following week. At first, she laughed at the idea of scheduling fun activities, but she soon realized that she had not done that in a while. I suggested to this student that technology free activities would be best for this homework.

The following week during counseling, the student was excited to share with me what she had planned for herself every day, and told me that she felt more motivated to do her work after she took some time doing things she enjoyed. For example, she likes makeup, so she practiced doing fun and creative techniques she recently saw on YouTube. I was so pleased that a simple act of making herself a priority changed her outlook on school.

It is not a selfish act to take care of yourself; in fact, it is the exact opposite. When one feels his or her best, then the very best can be produced from that person, even in difficult times such as the past year. Just as with the student I’ve been counseling, it is essential to reset yourself, to fill your cup. This student needed a reminder that there needs to be something to look forward to everyday, even something small. COVID-19 made it more apparent how important self-care is with the added stress and feeling unsure about many things. As a school psychologist, what better gift could you give to the students you interact with and assist than being your best self?

Think of self-care as part of a job description, a requirement for employment. Find what fills your cup, and fill it often, because you cannot pour from an empty cup; and encourage the students you interact with to do the same. It’s amazing what a change it can make.

Ashley Connolly, M.A.

School Psychology Intern

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