As we prepare for the month of December in school, it is important for everyone to remember that the coming holidays mean different things to different people. Some families will celebrate in grand scale, while others will be more low-key. Some may not celebrate at all. Something we share in common, however, will be the need to remember that the twelfth month of the calendar year is often accompanied by a lot of stress. At school and at home, we can help one another by keeping our eyes on the indicators of distress among our children.
Recently, aspects of school well-being for primary school children have been highlighted as a concern in a new report of 21,000 primary school students in the United Kingdom (RS Assessment from Hodder Education, SchoolDash, and Nottingham Trent University). While these findings are not related to a demanding seasonal schedule, they are still instructive for families with children who are trying to cope with a “return to normal” after two years of significant COVID educational and family disruption.
The holiday season can bring the twin unwelcome guests of stress and depression for many adults. It’s not surprising. The holidays often present a dizzying array of demands from cooking meals, shopping, and baking to cleaning and entertaining – and most of this begins in early December reaching a fever pitch by the time kids are off school. If significant travel is involved, or challenging family dynamics are at play, the stress we feel as adults can radiate “down the leash” to our children and pretty soon they are exhibiting signs of frustration, anxiety, and tension (i.e., stress!).
If COVID-19 and seasonal colds and flu are spreading in a community, it may bring a feeling of additional stress or uncertainty, or we may be worrying about our loved ones’ health. We may also feel stressed, sad, or anxious because our holiday plans may suddenly have to look different.
All children are dialed-in to the stress levels and worries of the adults in their lives, even when the signs are subtle or barely perceptible. They can still tell. It’s an important reason for us, as parents and teachers, to be self-aware and committed to self-care. Otherwise, we risk the effects of our own stress “rolling downhill” onto the youngest ones, many of whom lack the capacity to understand that “all will be well”. If their rocks (i.e., their parents!) are jittery and consumed by stress, it is no surprise that they will exhibit similar behaviours. The expression “mini me” is not just about looks! Emotional and functional “resemblance” means our kids are watching us carefully and learning how to cope by imitating hope we cope.
As we embark on the month of December in a few shorts days, the calendar is already filling and the accompanying stress is not far off.
If the commotion of Black Friday is a sign of things to come, everyone needs to brace for impact. Measures such as regular check-ins with our children and students – not to mention with one another – can help to strengthen everyone’s overall well-being!
Albert Einstein once opined that “life is like a bicycle” and that in order “to keep” our “balance”, we need to “keep moving.” While is this certainly true, it is also true that, if we are stressed out, we won’t be joyful or insightful parents or teachers of children.
This December, let’s keep balance in mind, as we ride that bike to the end of 2022!
Ric Anderson, Head of School