Zhu, Q., Cheong, Y., Wang, C., & Sun, C. (2021). The roles of resilience, peer relationship, teacher-student relationship on student mental health difficulties during COVID-19. School Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1037/spq0000492
Summarized by Megyn Jasman
Notes of Interest:
- The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered students’ lives in school, including but not limited to virtual learning, social-distancing requirements, and limited extracurricular activities.
- This study examines the challenges students faced during the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, and what specific factors can help protect them from experiencing adverse mental health symptoms.
- Younger students had better relationships with teachers, and older students experienced higher levels of mental health difficulties.
- Peer victimization was associated with greater mental health difficulties in students.
- Findings highlighted that students’ resilience and relationship quality with their teachers were protective factors for students’ mental health and buffered the effects of peer victimization on mental health difficulties during COVID-19.
- Schools should give attention to building strong social relationships between students and their teachers, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Building young students’ resilience is important in reducing adverse mental health outcomes. For resilience promotion, teachers can help students identify their personal strengths and strategies they used to over- come challenges in the past.
- Transformative social emotional learning (SEL) curriculums should be implemented at schools to promote equity and the optimal developmental outcomes in schools by building authentic relationships between students and teachers.
Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)
The present cross-sectional study aimed to (a) expand our understanding of the role of risk and resilience factors for adolescent adjustment during coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and (b) examine personal resilience, peer and teacher–student relationships as protective factors against mental health difficulties. A total of 3,662 students from 4th to 11th grades in Urumchi, China completed a survey in June 2020. Urumchi is an ethnically diverse city, with nearly 40% of the population in this school district being ethnic minority students. The schools of Urumchi closed in February 2020 and reopened in April 2020. The results of latent moderated structural equation modeling suggested that peer victimization was associated with greater mental health difficulties in students. Personal resilience and teacher–student relationships were promotive factors for better mental health and also served as a buffer from the negative effect of peer victimization on mental health. The results also showed divergent patterns for elementary versus secondary school students as well as gender differences. Implications for how schools can support students during COVID-19 were discussed.
Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)
Our results highlight important findings in the context of COVID-19 pandemic and suggest multiple implications. First, peer victimization was associated with more mental health difficulties during COVID-19. In comparison to previous studies, students in our sample reported experiencing more cyber victimization and more mental health difficulties. Schools should pay more attention to prevent cyber peer victimization and protect students’ mental health as they use electronic devices more frequently during the pandemic and cannot easily defend themselves (Kowalski et al., 2014). School psychologists and counselors can conduct regular peer victimization and mental health screenings to design prevention and intervention
programs based on the data. They can also train adults in school to recognize peer victimization, respond to victimization immediately, and provide needed support to students who struggle with peer victimization and mental health difficulties.
Second, it is important to foster students’ personal resilience strategies and social support (from teachers and peers) in school, especially during challenging times like the current COVID-19 pandemic. For resilience promotion, teachers can help students identify their personal strengths and strategies they used to overcome challenges in the past. They can also teach students to set small and achievable goals (e.g., SMART goals) and developing problem-
solving skills (Kuperminc et al., 2020), such as having students brainstorm the most effective ways to solve the problem and trying different strategies. Additionally, it is important to teach positive thinking and emotional regulation skills (e.g., mindfulness; Galante et al., 2018; Reivich et al., 2013). For example, teachers, school counselors, and school psychologists can encourage students to list three things they did well each day to promote confidence and inspire positive thinking.
As a part of social support in school, developing positive relationships between teachers and students and among peers is crucial, especially because social interactions may take different forms (e.g., online communication) during COVID-19. School psychologists or counselors can provide teachers and staff with training on how to establish relationships with students and provide tips that can benefit students when they are doing distance learning and when they return to the school (Ye et al., 2021). Schools may also consider assigning high-risk elementary school student a designated staff member who will maintain a relationship with the student and coordinate with their families throughout the school year, particularly when transitioning between in-person and virtual learning.
Third, at the school level, transformative social emotional learning (SEL) curriculums should be implemented. The present study was based on an ethnical diverse sample, and previous studies showed that ethnical minority students were vulnerable in social conflicts in school (Hu et al., 2009). Transformative SEL curriculums can aim to promote equity and the optimal developmental outcomes in schools by building authentic relationships between
students and teachers, which further facilitates colearning to explore inequities and cocreates inclusive solutions during COVID-19 (Jagers et al., 2019). With transformative SEL, schools can examine the potential ethnic and economic inequities.
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