Five Tips to Reduce Winter Break Anxiety
Teachers are almost always excited about an upcoming vacation, but as we approach the winter break, your students may also be experiencing excitement and joy mixed with feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. This month, we reached out to a handful of educators, school social workers, and clinicians, for their insights and we identified five tips to reduce stress and anxiety for your students during this time of year.
“I have a lot of students whose responsibilities increase over break (job, family, etc.) and school is more the relief.”
- Michelle, a middle school special education teacher.
Why are school breaks hard for students?
While a long school vacation may sound like a huge relief to most students, any change in routine can cause stress and anxiety for students (and adults). For some students, school may be the one place they find consistency, structure, and caring relationships.
If you can see that your students are experiencing stress and anxiety due to the upcoming school break, below are some ways you can offer support to ease the transition.
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How to help students through changes to the school routine
We know adults and kids are stressed out. Teenagers have higher levels of depression and anxiety than ever before. When students learn how to use mindfulness, they are ready to effectively manage stressful situations by acknowledging their emotions and making responsible decisions.
1. Check-in with students
It is normal to have confusing feelings around the holidays. Talk to your students about what they are feeling. Set aside time for conversations with your students.
"I think one of the things that’s really important to me this time of year is to just make sure to check in with kids as often as possible and make sure that I’m cultivating an environment where they know that I’m someone they can come to if they need anything at all—whether it’s related to school or not.”
- Jeffrey, a high-school social studies teacher
2. Keep classroom routines and structure
While it can be fun as a teacher to make the month of December a special time for your students, try not to overextend or overwhelm our students with new things and changes to the routine.
“I tell everyone that holidays come with a lot of ambiguity so having classroom structure can help with big transitions in and out of school.”
- Jamie, a school-therapist
3. Prepare students for changes in routine
When there is an assembly, a classroom party, or any change in routine, make sure to announce the change in the morning and remind students throughout the day of the change in the schedule
“Depending on the student we might read a social story and think of ways to problem solve. Generally, I think letting students know as much as possible of prior plans can help while also gently reminding them that they need to be flexible if plans change."
- Ronni, a school-based speech-pathologist
4. Offer alternatives to parties and assemblies
While holiday parties and assemblies may be fun for some students, the change in routine, loud noises, and the large crowds may be overwhelming for others. Chris, a special education teacher, mentioned the importance of offering alternatives and choices for students who wish not to partake in big school events or parties.
5. Create and send home packets and calendars
Make copies and/or share links to coloring pages, crosswords, jigsaw puzzles, and word finds that students can complete over the break.
Include parks, public libraries, and recreation centers that are open for students. Add in museums that offer free days. Emmi, a middle school special education teacher, added to include in family resources of free or low-cost community events.
“I make coloring, crossword, word find packets that also include a calendar of events in students"
- Laura, a math teacher
Teachers know that holidays and school breaks can create periods of stress and chaos in the classroom. Students’ behaviors may change as school breaks approach: acting out more verbally or physically, not engaging with their peers, and having little motivation to do school work.
Behaviors are a form of communication, and so it is critical as educators to take a moment to observe and reflect on what students are communicating around this time of year.
If you're looking for additional tips to take care of yourself this holiday season, then be sure to join us at our upcoming webinar: Self-Care for Teachers. Visit our professional development workshop page for more information.