December 10, 2012

Beating the Winter Slump!

It seems lately that the days between Halloween and Christmas rush by in a blur of crunchy, brightly colored leaves that quickly fade into the grey skies and snow banks of winter. The sun sets mid-afternoon, and with the winter weather it sometimes seems like it never rises again in the morning. This compressed time often leads to a sense that there is too much to get done and not enough hours to do it in.

This feeling in parents and teachers is equally – if not more greatly – felt by students. With holiday celebrations abounding and sports seasons winding down, students may feel stressed, overwhelmed, and/or like school and homework are lower priorities. This is at sharp odds with the fact that many teachers are trying to reach landmarks in their curricula before the winter break and may be adding assignments or encouraging extra credit to shore up less-than-desirable grades. With all of this whirling around them, it is no wonder that students often “check out” between Thanksgiving and Winter Break!

It is important to acknowledge these emotions and the surrounding conditions; feeling understood can go a long way towards helping your child through this challenging time. At the same time, you need to “keep your eyes on the prize” and not let the season and all of the conflicting events get in the way of the overarching goal of helping your child feel successful and confident. Here are some tips for making it through this time of year in as positive and productive a fashion as possible.

Be extra vigilant 

At Engaging Minds, we advocate for a “gradual release of responsibility” that allows students to become increasingly more independent as their organization skills and confidence escalate. But with all of the external diversions and pressure, this is a perfect time to offer a little more support and oversight. Checking the assignment notebook and calendars more frequently, following up on your child’s progress on a long-term project and offering to sit and do homework with him/her can all help your child feel well supported and secure at a time when other factors may feel less in control. 

Choose your battles 

You’re under stress, your child is under stress – it’s a perfect recipe for epic blowups and confrontations at a time of year we’d like to think was more geared towards bringing families together rather than pushing them apart. Acknowledging to your child that this is a difficult time all around and listening to him/her detail the stresses of his/her life can be very helpful; sometimes, just feeling understood is enough to get your child over the hump and set him/her back on the path of getting work done. But when it isn’t, be selective in what you choose to push. Let your child know that you are aware that this is a particularly stressful time and that you are willing to compromise in order to make sure that s/he feels less stressed and more able to focus on the most important tasks at hand.


Be as consistent as possible 

While this may seem at odds with the previous piece of advice, it actually works very well in conjunction with it. While you can let the little things go here and there in the name of keeping the peace, you do not want to do a total overhaul of your routine at this time. Having a set schedule and sticking to it can provide some comfort and routine to your child when other factors are out of his/her control (holiday parties, concerts, sports events, etc). Don’t cancel outside-of-school commitments unless absolutely necessary; if an immutable conflict does arise, reschedule rather than canceling altogether.

Communicate with your child’s teachers/tutors 

If your child seems particularly overwhelmed or exhausted, it is imperative that you let his/her teachers and tutors know this. While, again, the ultimate responsibility for communicating with teachers should be the student’s (obviously this doesn’t apply to much younger children), this is a perfectly reasonable time to step in and let the other adults in your child’s life know what is going on. If your child feels that all of the grownups in his/her life are on the same page, supporting and encouraging him/her and working together, the likelihood of a major academic or emotional meltdown is greatly reduced. Here again a balance of flexibility and consistency are key, and the more clear you are in your communication with teachers and tutors about what is going on with your child and with your family’s schedule/demands the more likely you are to be able to well support your child.

One final piece of advice – hang in there; this too shall pass. Before you know it, the holidays will be behind you, the kids will be back at school, and the long stretch until February or March break will have set in. If you have ridden out the storm and kept schedules intact and communication open and frequent, you and your student will be in a good place to enjoy the holidays and vacation and return to school in January ready and willing to get back to work.