When Festive Feels Like Overwhelmed

December is festive for some, stressful for others, and a little bit of both for most students.

There is a ramp-up in tests, papers and projects due before the holidays. At the same time, sports, play practice, jobs and more, continue in full swing as before. Add to that the expectation that kids leave time for family holiday gatherings and gift shopping, as well as college applications for those seniors who are applying regular decision, and it’s understandable that our kids may be a bit fragile this time of year.

And who can blame them? There isn’t a lot of downtime for our high schoolers these days. Students say they are feeling the pressure of needing to do well in school while also excelling in extracurricular activities in order to be attractive to colleges.

Despite these very real pressures, as parents, there are things we can do to help our students keep things in perspective:

  • Emphasize the need for balance. Our students need to know that while we want them to work hard in school and engage in a meaningful activity or two, we also want them to enjoy their high school years (safely!).

    Remind them that they will still be able to go to college if their grades are not perfect and that they do not need to be involved in multiple activities just to pad their resumes. 

  • Encourage them to find something they love to do. That passion will be shared with colleges, many of which will be happy to hear about it, even if it is not a varsity sport, lead in the play or as a class officer.

    Not everyone is an academic superstar and there is a lot to be said for learning to find a balance between working to the best of your ability and leaving some room for other activities and downtime. There are certainly many adults who have not learned this; it often catches up at some point.

    Some of our kids need help in finding that activity that they love and may need a push to try something through a club, volunteering or a solo project that inspires them. Spending time in an activity they love will often give them the energy needed to hang in there with schoolwork that may be less enticing. And it will help them grow as a person and feel good about themselves.

  • Stay supportive. Keep in mind, as you get together with relatives and friends over the holidays, that some seniors will be beaming with pride having already been accepted to their dream school, while others still have months of uncertainty and angst ahead. 

    Still others have barely begun the process and are unsure if college is the right step for them at all. It’s good to remind these students that not everyone is ready to go off to a 4-year college right after high school. (That is okay – they just need another solid plan in place.)

    Juniors feel the stress of their older classmates and many are now getting back PSAT scores and ramping up on their own college planning process. Your child knows this year is very important and feels the pressure to do well in all areas – school, testing and extracurriculars.

    Try to find time when you and your child are both feeling relaxed to ask how they are doing and how you can help support them.

  • Encourage down time.  Plenty of sleep, along with time to relax, laugh and enjoy being a teen goes a long way toward making everything else fall into place. If your teen is too tightly scheduled, something may need to go.

Finally, do be on the lookout for more serious signs that your child is dealing with a level of anxiety or depression that may require professional help. Winter and its associated decrease in sunshine can sometimes be a contributing factor (consider a vitamin D supplement if your doctor agrees).

All the best for a wonderful holiday season for you and your family!

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