Dec 11

Easing Holiday Stress

Posted by Valentine Burr in Fair Is Not Equal on Dec 11, 2012

The last two mornings in my home have been chaotic. I have two boys, 7 and 9, and while the morning rush to get off to school is never simple, this week has started full of tears and drama. The holiday season is upon us...

We're all slightly under the weather and recovering from a weekend of a few late nights and disrupted routines. Fatigue, excitement and stress are a tinderbox for raw emotions-for kids and adults alike.

With all the excitement and joy that the holidays can bring, they also usher in a set of particular challenges in the classroom. Your students may be experiencing:

  • Disrupted routines at home and school.
  • Stress from adults that they may feel but not fully understand.
  • Sensory overload with the bombardment of commercialized holiday messages.
  • Fatigue.
  • Anxiety over expectations about gifts.
  • Separation anxiety over leaving school for a long stretch.
  • A disconnect with the classroom community if their own family traditions differ from the majority.
  • The economic pressures of the holidays translating to particularly stressful conditions for their families.

In addition, of course, you yourself may be tired, stressed, nursing a cold and managing the many demands of this time of year.

Because of all of this, do anticipate over the next week and a half:

  • Some regression in behaviors.
  • For younger students, more frequent tantrums and tears.
  • Homework and other struggles. 
  • Increased distraction.
  • Headaches and other physical symptoms of stress or fatigue.
  • Increased social tensions and conflicts.
  • Less patience in adults (families, colleagues and yourself).

So, what can you do?

First and foremost, take care of yourself. The more you attend to your needs, the better equipped you will be to take on additional classroom stresses in a calm and constructive way. In addition:

  • Keep to the normal routines as much as possible. While classroom and school-wide celebrations are lovely and frequent at this time of year, don’t underestimate the power of predictable and comfortable routines in helping kids to feel safe and settled.
  • Plan for extra quiet times in the classroom: silent reading, read-alouds, quiet art activities with music in the background. These moments can help kids re-group, re-focus and provide a needed break in a busy day.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, provide additional outlets for physical activity if you can: time to run outside, stretch breaks, simple yoga poses. For some kids a physical outlet helps to drain stress and re-focus energies.
  • Minimize a focus on the material aspects of the holiday season. If kids want to engage in conversations about their wish lists and what they’re “getting,” acknowledge the excitement of that and gently move the conversation on.
  • Minimize a focus on explicit holiday “projects,” even if you plan to address a range of cultures and traditions. Unless these are attached to a meaningful part of the curriculum, holiday projects are often a superficial tour and focus kids’ energies on the very things that may be making them feel anxious.
  • This said your students might want to explore similarities and differences between the cultural and religious traditions of their families. Keep in mind that not all students will have particular traditions to share regarding this time of year (so conversations should be open enough for students to participate in many ways) and that no student should ever be asked to represent “a group.” Rather, conversations should be framed around what “my family does.”
  • Finally, be sure that kids understand the transition out of and back into school. Counting days on the calendar and talking about what will happen when kids get back to school may help ease uncertainty about the transition.

How do you support yourself and your students during the holiday season?

tagged classroom, holidays, routines, strategies, stress
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