[Parents] No School = A Stressed Out Kid? Holiday Break Survival Guide

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They might not admit it, but kids (children and adolescents) crave structure. Though they might fuss and fight about the monotony of school, young people enjoy the stability and comfort of routines. (American Psychological Association). School — regulations and all — provides both structure and routine. “The holidays can be a very stressful time for everyone,” explains Sara Listas, LMSW. “With teens in particular, you might see an increase in ‘acting out’ behaviors. This might be due to unconscious anxiety that comes with a break in the routine. Adolescents might not be aware of it, but they know they are going to be out of school in an unstructured environment.” Even in my college lit class, my students like to sit in the same seats each session, and will tell their peers to move if someone sits in his or her spot.

So what happens when the routine is broken, even for a short holiday hiatus? Here are a couple tips to help parents ease the school-free days to come.

  •  Understand that a change in behavior (and often not a pleasant one) is not personal. As Sara Listas, LMSW explains, unconscious anxiety comes with a break in the routine.
  • Keep children and teens stimulated, mentally and physically. Of course they will want to sleep, hang out with friends, and do all kinds of unstructured activities, but try to plan outings that require active participation. Rather than focussing on saying “NO” to TV or video games, organize museum visits, playwriting and performances, cooking, craft projects, yoga classes or any type of participation in a team sport.
  • Encourage children of all ages to read and/or host book parties and salons to chat about what they’re reading.
  • Volunteer work during a holiday break is a fantastic (and philanthropic) way to keep teens engaged with the world (and help them build their college resume).
  • When visiting relatives, encourage children and teens to interview family members or look through mementos and keepsakes. An added bonus will come when students realize that history isn’t just a class, but an integral part of the human experience.
  • This recent New Yorker article disputes the reliability of brain games to improve attention (especially in young adults with A.D.H.D.) and boost I.Q. levels, but they are better than GTA 5.
  • Use the break to assess progress and create realistic goals. Often times, students (and parents) don’t realize how far behind they are until the end of a semester or time right before a holiday break. School reports and grades usually precede a break, so expect the results to come while you’re on holiday. If the results come as a total shock, don’t freak out. Breathe and reboot. Now is the time to strategize how to catch up. If a student is behind in more than one subject, divide and conquer. Remember, as a parent, you model behavior for your child. And chances are that if a student is behind and not telling you, he or she is overwhelmed and not sure how you will react.If a student is all caught up with his or her work, you may want to assess what to do with this time. Our achievement-driven culture tells us to ignore down time. But, I say, rethink what constitutes achievement. In fact, why not pose that very question to your child? The best academic success happens when students set their own goals and regulate their own motivation. Of course they might need some nudging, but the more agency they take in their achievement, the better the results.
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