Working our way out of a COVID Mindset

As we emerge from the COVID Pandemic, students may be faced with a bit of nervousness about the “return to normal.” For some, the return will be a gleeful re-emergence, but for others it will be a re-entry into an environment they were just as glad to leave. During the pandemic, many parents have been spending more time directly involved with their children’s education, providing more direction than the student would normally receive in a large class. As student return to more traditional learning, that close supervision is not possible in large classes. Helping students re-enter the traditional classroom environment will be a challenge for parents and teachers. The gleeful students might be surprised to learn that classroom rules have not changed. While they are glad to be able to interact more freely with their peers, they may have forgotten the order that is necessary in larger classes of students. The less than gleeful students may be dreading meeting once again the students who, intentionally or not, have made them feel unwelcome and inadequate. Empowering the meek or angry students while helping the exuberant students regain self-control presents a challenge even in normal times.

Learning to Self-direct through Positive Self-talk

To help students make the transition, teaching them to self-direct once again will be vital. Self-direction is an important metacognitive skill because when students self-direct, they exercise control of their behaviors. They recognize that they are making a conscious decision about what they do and say. As students re-enter the world of classroom learning, recognizing that they have the choice to “self-direct” their own behaviors will help them to “get a grip” on themselves. A year is forever for young people in the context of their short lives. Many will have become disconnected from normal classroom routine.

One of the most powerful tools for exercising self-direction is self-talk. The trouble is students may be prone to negative self-talk, especially the meek or angry student. Direct teaching of positive self-talk is necessary for most students who do not even realize that they can control how they think about themselves and what they choose to do and say.

Positive self-talk is important:

· to set positive expectations for their performance on tasks and in interactions,

· to reinforce positive perceptions of one’s performance by affirming one’s ability to perform well,

· to take note of good work by practicing positive self-talk before a performance to set a positive expectation for a good performance and after a performance to affirm the performance.

The expectation that a student can do what is required is vital to a successful performance. Parents and teachers often tell students, “you can do this” but that affirmation is external to the student. To be powerful enough for the student to self-direct their own behaviors, students need to internalize that belief. Saying to themselves, “I can do this” is far more powerful than having someone else say it to them. External affirmations like good grades and “atta boy” are important but not sufficient to motivate self-direction. Being able to say, “I feel good about myself, because I finished my project on time” is far more powerful and long lasting. (See “Emerging from COVID with a New Sense of Empowerment” blog for a brief discussion of metacognitive skills.)

Applying Self-talk to increase Self-direction

Self-talk has an important role to play in self-direction. Stopping before acting to do some positive self-talk causes students to stop and think about what they are about to do. Thinking about what they are about to do automatically prompts self-direction by raising the intended behavior to conscious consideration.

Learn more:

These metacognitive skills and strategies are taught to children and teens in the Metacognitive Approach to Social Skills Training (MASST-R). In essence, the parents and teachers are shown how to guide children and teens to a discovery of the control that each one exercises over his or her own choices and behaviors. This process empowers students to take control and responsibility for themselves, and to exercise that control with skill across situations and settings.

For more information about how to help children develop these skills, see the MASST-R Modules at

Access the accompanying Module workbooks for children and teens at The student graphic organizers (workbooks) are currently available free of charge.

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