Holidays Are Stressful for Middle Schoolers, Too

By: Judith Baenen

According to the National Association of Health Education Centers, the chief stressor for students ages 9-13 is school. No middle grades educator is surprised by this, given the factors involved in a student's school day—grades, homework, friends, bad hair, etc.

As the holidays approach, these stressors are compounded. For kids from abusive and alcoholic families, the holidays are filled with anxiety, if not danger. For the vast majority of middle schoolers, there will be long stretches of time with nothing to do.

For many, interactions with family members are not particularly pleasant, and 10- to 15-year-olds often don't know how to change this dynamic (to be honest, they often add to it!).

Sometimes schools deepen the stress by ramping up the schoolwork as a way of keeping kids focused and busy. Even preparation for holiday programs and projects changes the routine enough to bring on new stress.

Teachers and parents can help kids in the middle grades deal with this stress.

Acknowledge that it exists.
Letting kids know that you know that this can be a hard time for them helps them ease up a little bit. Teachers, especially advisers, should talk openly about the stresses of the holidays for everyone. This might allow kids to be less hard on themselves for any negative feelings that exist.

Teach stress-reduction techniques.
Breathing techniques, body relaxation, mental imaging, and writing work to reduce stress. If you haven't already taught these techniques to your students, this is a good time to do it. This might also be a good time for the PE teacher to introduce yoga or tai chi as part of the daily routine.

Don't let your stress get in the way.
Students who are under stress are going to act out. Kids are going to talk back more, engage in more fights, and be meaner to each other than at other times. You are the adult; work to keep your classroom on an even keel. Raising your voice and losing your patience with students only adds to the tension.

Get students to think beyond themselves.
Most middle schools encourage students to participate in service projects at this time of year. Instead of asking everyone to bring in a can of food, spend quality time talking about the needs of others and the issues behind those needs. Focusing on others is a huge stress-reliever.

Preparing for the holidays can be fun if we understand that for middle schoolers, it's not always as fun as it was when they were "little." Teachers should also remember that they need to find their own stress relief over the next several weeks.


4 comments on article "Holidays Are Stressful for Middle Schoolers, Too"

Ms. Baenen,

I am a currently a pre-service teacher at Kansas State University, and I wanted to thank you for writing this article. I have had a few experiences in classrooms during my time at Kansas State, and after reading this article, many things I have noticed have begun to make more sense. I had always noticed kids acting up around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and spring break, and I always thought this was because students were simply getting excited about the upcoming holidays. After reading this article, I now realize that this process of acting up may be prompted by stress and not excitement at the upcoming holiday. The techniques you provided also seemed extremely interesting, and I wanted to know what success you have noticed with these? Have you heard from any teachers who have used the stress-reduction techniques? From my experience as a student, I think those would have helped greatly, and I didn't know if you had heard from any teachers who have noticed success while doing this? Thank you again for your article!

4/19/2015 6:28 PM

Ms. Baenen,

Thank you for sharing your article about Holidays being stressful Middle Schoolers too. To be honest when I think about middle schoolers and holidays all I can imagine is excitement, but I'm wrong. Not all kids have a safe home environment or the best parents and this has an impact on how they feel about the holidays. Being a teacher it is our duty to help the kids be ready for the holidays and how to deal with it if it isn't the best at home. I really liked your four tips on how to deal with this. Acknowledge that it exists, teach stress-reduction techniques, don't let your stress get in the way, and get students to think about to think beyond themselves. Middle Schoolers are at such a crucial age and helping them along the way in every way is important. I'll need to remember these tips in a future classroom to deal with holiday stress.


Allan McFarland

4/19/2015 9:10 PM

Ms. Baenen,

Thank you for your article on students' behavior during the holidays. As a future agricultural education teacher, it is important to have students raise funds for the program in the community. This article has made me realize that the holidays are an important time to do so, but to think about the students' home lives, work load, and grade anxiety. Students at the middle school level already have a lot on their plates and I agree that teachers need to acknowledge stressors and anxiety when they see it. As a student I too feel the anxiety around the holidays and the pressures that are involved. This article completely makes sense on why students are so called "crazy" and "excited" around the holidays.

4/20/2015 12:02 PM

I really appreciated your article on how holiday stress can affect how our students interact with teachers and with one another.

I would add that an important aspect of reducing this stress is to try to maintain as much of the "normal" routine as possible leading up to a holiday. If we engage in activities in our classrooms that are focused on the excitement of a holiday (Christmas crafts! Candygrams! Festive music and decorations in the hallways!), we can inadvertently add to the stress our students are feeling.

This is not to say that we shouldn't engage in celebratory activities. If we can keep the focus on building relationships and learning, rather than on the "holiday spirit", we offer security and routine for those students feeling overwhelmed.

12/11/2019 9:13 AM

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