Positive Parenting

How to Beat the Winter Back-to-School Blues

Back-to-school blues are just as likely to hit after a long holiday break. Here are some tips for parents and teachers to help ADHD student adjust to school again after the holidays.

Young ADHD boy being bullied at school.
Young ADHD boy being bullied at school.

I have a confession to make: I am one of those people who hangs my Christmas lights just days after Halloween. My wife won’t actually let me fire them up until Thanksgiving, but she doesn’t know that I turn them on and just stare at them when she’s at work. What can I say? They’re a shiny, sparkly visual reminder that the holidays are coming. The anticipation and excitement builds inside of me for over a month. But, now that the holidays have come and gone, I’m a little sad.

If I don’t plan ahead, I find myself a bit blue after the holidays. This was especially the case when I was a student and it was time to head back to school. The month leading up to the holiday break, I was productive and motivated. Even when I encountered a difficult challenge that would otherwise cause me to derail, I was able to find the drive to keep moving forward because the anticipation of winter vacation always gave me an extra boost.

The idea of a visible, tangible, and obtainable finish line — the day you can start hanging the lights, a much-needed holiday vacation — is what many students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) need to help focus. For many students, the holidays are a time of rest, relaxation, and rewards. How can they be expected to not be disappointed on that cold early first Monday morning back to school, standing at the bus stop with not a glimmer of sunlight to be seen? It’s hard not to ask, “What’s there to look forward to now?”

[Free Resource: The Ultimate ADHD School Toolkit]

Students without ADHD might be content to look forward to spring break, but for a child with ADHD, that can seem too far away. People with ADHD tend to operate within a short-term frame of mind; long term is not a concept we grasp with ease. Motivation comes from the expectation of a relatively quick pay-off, which is simply not always possible. Keep in mind that the pay-off does not always need to be a big one — something to look forward to, even something small, can act as a motivator. If your child is facing the winter back-to-school blues, here are a few suggestions for parents and teachers who might notice their kids looking a bit glum as school resumes.

1. Cash in one of those gift cards to Target or Wal-Mart and get your child some new school supplies. It might seem a bit wasteful or indulgent, but giving your child a crisp new notebook, some fun pens, and a new pencil case is an inexpensive but fun way to cheer up, encourage, and support her as she returns to school. When my daughter starts school in a couple of years, I think I will hold back on some of those Christmas presents and institute a back-to-school celebration dinner complete with her favorite meal and a couple of shiny presents in the form of school supplies.

2. Plan a special activity to take place in the weeks after school resumes. Teachers might want to think about planning a field trip or a classroom activity that involves a lot of visual or hands-on stimulation and student interaction. And parents can plan something fun for the weekend.

3. Teachers can also take the time to highlight some fun upcoming school activities that are already on the calendar — sporting events, plays, dances, contests, and the like. For younger students, teachers can consider introducing a new classroom routine and getting the students with ADHD involved first.

[10 Mindfulness Exercises for Stronger School Focus]

Whether you use the above suggestions or not, the key here is to remember that students with ADHD need extra help getting back on track and keeping their heads in the game. While folks without attention deficit think dealing with the winter blues is just part of the annual routine (especially in colder climates), people with ADHD can have an especially hard time. Let’s get active about doing what we can to help our loved ones keep putting one foot in front of the other!