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.