Back to Middle/High School: Combating the Sunday Scaries

For me, the Sunday scaries began about a week ago, when it became suddenly undeniable that my summer was coming to an abrupt end. Painful as this realization was, I can only imagine it to be even more so unpleasant for my students. Yes, I’m a teacher. And yes, my Sunday night scaries can still be just as brutal as the impending doom that accompanied my Sunday evenings throughout adolescence.  Almost 20 years has passed since my own bouts with middle school anxiousness were at an all-time high, and yet, Sunday scaries can still summon that familiar sense of impending doom. So what is a high schooler (or high school teacher) to do when the scaries rear their ugly heads? Asking for a friend…

 

Stop saying “I’ll do it Sunday”

Quite possibly (and most logically), the reason that Sunday scaries are even a thing is due to the fact that adults and adolescents alike choose to postpone or procrastinate during the weekend. For many of us, Sundays are reserved for cleaning, laundering, meal prepping, etc. High schoolers do the same thing—they put off any homework, projects, or essays until Sunday evening. Teens put school work off until the last minute because it is the last possible thing they would like to do during their weekend reprieve.

 

While this makes perfectly logical sense, teens only compound their stress further and muster up Sunday scaries when they choose to save every task for Sunday night. Furthermore, in putting off these tasks, whether it be school work or chores, the item to be completed becomes that much more dreaded purely because of our previous avoidance. Instead, encourage teens to complete at least part of a large assignment or homework item early on in the weekend.

 

This small modification removes the daunting task of simply sitting down and starting. For many, starting an assignment or essay is the most difficult aspect, and thus, the most avoided. Tackling something headon removes the anxiety associated with the very beginning of the task. In chunking an assignment or essay over the weekend, teens also help themselves with their time management, maintaining focus and attention, and prioritizing the most difficult aspects of the assignment, as opposed to all-out cramming in one sitting.

 

Double check for necessary items beforehand

Again, saving things for the last minute (Sunday night) only allows room for more unforeseeable obstacles and less time to circumvent those obstacles. If middle and high schoolers know that a permission form, essay, or application is due in the early part of the week, Sunday night is NOT the time to realize that they are missing a key component of that form, essay, application, etc. Checking for these essential items during the course of the weekend leaves time for any unexpected emergency to be taken care of so that Sunday scaries are kept at bay.

 

Mark my words: Sunday night is when all printers run out of ink, or paper, or jam, or malfunction, or spontaneously explode. And you better believe that anywhere from two to ten other students will have the same printer “catastrophe” that prohibits them from submitting their essay on Monday morning. High schoolers can avoid this panic attack and their teacher’s subsequent eye-roll by printing ahead of time—it’s much easier to find an open Staples or Office Depot on Saturday afternoon than after 10pm on Sunday.

 

Know your priorities and work accordingly

Organizing tasks appropriately throughout the weekend allows students to identify and prioritize a to-do list. As natural procrastinators can tell you, teens would much prefer to do the easy or fun tasks first. However, this is of no help to them. Parents should encourage teens to get into the habit of completing the more difficult or high-stakes items first.

 

Yes, it may be more enticing to come up with a cheer for the pep rally, but the history research paper should come first. Help middle and high schoolers prioritize their lists by using the “fun” tasks as rewards for completing the difficult items first.

 

Look ahead

Using a small amount of time on Sunday night to look at the week ahead can help to alleviate the Sunday scaries as well. Often times, stress of the unknown or last-minute surprises are what create anxiety for teens. By sitting down and perusing the week’s calendar, families can ensure that a) everyone is on the same page about appointments/events, b) there are no surprises or last-minute to-dos, and c) events and tasks are evenly spaced as to not overbook any member of the family. A combined calendar in a central location also helps to correct the “I didn’t know” or “I forgot” excuse. If everyone is on the same page about the upcoming week, goals are sure to be met.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Background

While oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) was added to the DSM in the 1980s, its existence and diagnosis is still hotly debated and somewhat misunderstood among families and educators. Surprisingly enough, ODD is one of the most common behavioral disorders to be diagnosed in children. Furthermore, researchers have also found that oppositional defiant disorder in both boys and girls is often accompanied by a previous ADHD diagnosis.

 

Symptoms

While ODD is a disorder that affects both boys and girls, symptoms are typically known to vary between the sexes. Though this is in no way absolute, researchers have found that boys with ODD display their opposition and defiance in more physically aggressive manners; their frustrations may escalate quickly and in more overtly explosive ways. While girls, on the other hand, are more likely to display oppositional or defiant behaviors in subtle, sneaky, or manipulative ways. For instance, girls with ODD may be deceitful or cunning and interact with others in intentionally uncooperative ways. Again, these are not hard and fast rules; they are simply some of the known observations experts have made between the genders.

 

It is also important to note that symptoms associated with ODD are typically misbehaviors that most children and teens will display at some point during their development. However, the difference between mere misbehaviors or teenage moodiness and ODD is the prevalence and severity of the behaviors. With regard to a diagnosis, ODD behaviors have likely become so frequent that they are deemed as the “norm” for that child.

 

Support in the Classroom

Behavior Support Additional Considerations
Disproportionate anger/frustration/

irritability

  • Provide student with flash pass to the counselor for when tempers flare
  • Allow student to take brief “brain breaks” throughout the day, especially when transitioning between activities or subject areas to alleviate stress
  • Provide student with preferential seating near the door for easy access to the hallway if frustration escalates
  • Provide student with fidget cube or stress ball to channel negative energy
  • Classrooms as a whole can benefit from stress-relieving or meditative practices, but these coping skills are especially beneficial to students with ODD; schools and counselling departments are beginning to focus students’ attention on mental self-care and coping methods to reduce anxiety and stress
Argumentative, uncooperative, defiant towards adults/authority figures
  • Present requests or directives in the form of an “either/or” question. For example, if a student throws paper off the desk, the teacher might say, “Would you like to either pick up the paper now, or pick up all scrap paper at the end of class?”
  • Remind student that his/her defiance is a choice that will result in a consequence; ask him/her if she would like to make a different choice to amend the tone/behavior/attitude
  • Stay calm; you cannot fight fire with fire. As difficult as it may be, teachers and other adults must remember that the ODD behaviors are stemming from a larger issue.
  • Deescalate the tone of the situation by maintaining a calm, understanding, yet firm demeanor. Act with care and be deliberate in your directives toward the student.
  • Remind students that you are there FOR THEM; everything you do is meant to ensure safety and success in the classroom. By reaffirming your desire to help him/her, a defiant student may soften the edge and be more receptive to your requests.
Physical aggression; vindictive, spiteful, or manipulative behavior
  • Physical altercations are never okay; remind students that verbal disagreements should never escalate to physical interactions
  • If something physical does transpire, adults must be sure to document the situation thoroughly. This includes all parties involved, what instigated the issue, and anyone who may have witnessed the altercation. Teachers should also note when and where the event took place so that administration and parents are made aware of the full situation.
  • Teachers can consider activities or brain breaks that either diffuse or expel aggression or anger.
  • Items such as Rubik’s cubes, coloring books, or sudoku challenges help students to come down off of the aggressive moment by occupying the mind
  • Consider creating a small, comfortable, secluded corner of the room where students can take a breath and collect themselves before re-entering the classroom environment
  • Teachers and guidance counselors can help to mediate aggression and manipulative behaviors by helping students to reflect on an incident. Prompt students to think about why they lied, cheated, manipulated, etc. Ask them what they could have done differently that would have resulted in a more positive outcome.

Proactive Steps for Transitioning within or between Schools

For parents with school-aged children, the idea of transitioning with or between entirely new schools can be anxiety-producing. How will my child handle the change of environment, schedule, routine and peers? How can I get a head start on making the transition as smooth as possible? What if things do not go smoothly? Who can I turn to for guidance? All of these questions are not only typical, but valid as well. Below are suggestions and ideas for parents whose children are transferring to a different school, or who will be experiencing a major transition within the current school.

Attitude is everything: For children who are just beginning preschool, Pre-K, or kindergarten, the initial transition from home life to school life can be challenging on many different levels. To ease the process right from the start, parents should be cognizant of how they react to the transition, as well as deliberate in how they portray their own attitude towards school. Parents and older siblings should intentionally speak of school as a positive, exciting new experience. A positive attitude towards school promotes the idea that this is a beneficial change in the child’s lifeit allows young children to become excited about the “newness” of the experience, as opposed to becoming frightened of the unknown. Discuss some of the new things that he or she will get to learn and participate in. Talk about the new friends they will make. Shed plenty of light on the great adventures that school providesperhaps start a countdown to encourage excitement about the transition, instead of dread.

Even for older students, attitude is completely contagious. If children and teens sense stress or anxiety coming from you about the school changes, they are certainly more likely to internalize those emotions. Therefore, if your middle or high schooler is experiencing a transfer or major schedule change, their first line of support and initial dose of positivity should come from you, the parents. Validate their concerns by listening and not dismissing their feelings, but be ready to put a positive spin on their concerns and provide solutions to their perceived worries.  

Do your research: To remove the intimidating shroud of the unknown, encourage any orientation, meet-and-greet, playdate, school tour, or mentorship that the new school might offer. For older students, check to see if their clubs, organizations, or extracurricular activities from the previous school exist at the new school. If so, get a jumpstart on registration, forms, and physicals for athletics. If your child or teen functions best when they know what is coming down the pike, ask the school about seeing your child’s class schedule or possibly meeting teachers in advance of the start date.

Guidance counselors are always a go-to for parent support, but networking through the PTA is another great resource. Members of the PTA are obviously involved in the school and in tune with the goings on in the school community. Fundraisers, parent meetings, and social events provide an opportunity for new parents to get involved, ask questions, and thus provide a sense of comfort to their child as “the new kid.” As much as information is power, parents new to a school’s community should be somewhat wary of the rumor mill, as this can paint facets of the school in a negative or incorrect light. Remember that any sort of listserv, blog post, or review could be biased or wholly untrue.

Focus on what’s important: Especially for middle and high schoolers, a transfer or transition to another program or school can mean a sharp learning curve, or even an initial decline in grades. Remind your student that anything new or unfamiliar is going to present its share of challenges, but this should not create discouragement. If grades slip or stress builds, reinforce your teen’s sense of self-worth by placing the focus on their other strengths. Remind him or her that a grade is simply one measure of their learningit is not indicative of one’s intelligence or capabilities.

Set aside time to acknowledge small wins or slight victories as a means of boosting self-esteem. Remind your child of the potential for growth that comes with challenges and obstacles. Then, encourage your teen to put the emphasis on gradual growth and improvementnot a solitary grade or score.   

How to Manage Testing Time: For Middle School Students

This time of year can be met with mixed emotions from students. Yes, spring break is on the here, which gives students, parents, and teachers a brief, but much-needed reprieve from the stressful school day.

Yet spring is also the time in which schools are gearing up for testing season. For middle schoolers, these tests may include benchmark assessments to gauge math and reading growth, like Map-M and Map-R. Middle schoolers will also be taking the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment. Because of the “high-stakes” mentality associated with these sorts of exams, the weeks leading up to and during testing can be rather stressful for students, parents, and teachers. However, there are strategies that parents and teachers can use to help middle school learners prepare for and thrive during these tests without becoming overwhelmed by stress or pressure.

  • Remind middle schoolers of strategies and routines that are within their control. Test-taking can be stressful due to the uncertainty and lack of control. To boost confidence and instill beneficial practices, talk to students about how they can put their best foot forward before even sitting down to take the exam.
    • Jumpstart their day with a healthy, filling breakfast that will keep middle schoolers fueled through the morning. Parents and teachers may want to consider providing students with a small snack during testing to keep the hunger edge off. Check with the school about their protocol for snacks while testing and consider packing a water bottle with your child as well. Hunger and thirst can be major distractions when it comes to learning, so a little pick-me-up might go a long way with keeping middle schoolers motivated and attentive during a morning of testing.
    • For any number of reasons, likely technology-related stimuli, middle schoolers are getting less and less sleep these days. Breaking poor sleeping habits can take a while before the body truly adjusts to a new schedule. Take action early by encouraging middle schoolers to adhere to a 7-8 hour sleep schedule leading up to assessment week. A regular sleep and wake time helps the body adjust to a healthy circadian rhythm, which will stave off any fatigue and keep students alert and focused during testing.
    • Think positive thoughts. Remind students that a test is simply one indicator of learning. And while we would like middle schoolers to take their testing seriously, we do not want them to be consumed with anxiety and stress. The mantra “do your best, forget the rest” helps learners to focus more on genuine effort and less on perfection or final scores.

  • Annotating is a practice that middle schoolers have probably been honing throughout the school year. Obviously, close reading and analytical thinking skills are beneficial across content areas—annotating is a practice that students are completing in science, history, English, and even math. Additionally, close reading and annotating can greatly help students during assessments as well.
  • A helpful strategy is to provide students with practices in which they annotate test questions, text excerpts, and written response prompts. The key is to help students identify what a question, answer option, or prompt is truly asking. By highlighting key words, breaking down questions, or rephrasing questions, students are better able to focus their thinking.

  • Parents should also remind middle schoolers about any 504 or IEP accommodations that they should be granted for testing. Some assessments, like PARCC, do not allow for certain accommodations; however, accommodations apply during other tests. Parents, children, and teachers must be on the same page when it comes to testing accommodations for major exams or standardized tests. When in doubt, ask—this way children know what to expect on exam day and are not thrown off by a possible lack of accommodations.

Anxiety: Ways to Spot a Problem at Home

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As a parent, you have certainly experienced your share of anxiety. Whether stemming from a feeling of nervousness, worry, uncertainty, or fear, that sense of anxiousness from a lack of control is familiar to everyone at some point.

Even if you do not suffer from clinically diagnosed anxiety, it is important to recognize potential signs of an anxiety disorder in your child. The important thing to remember is that, if your child is struggling with anxiety, there are ways to manage it once diagnosed. Research suggests that 80 percent of children with clinical signs of an anxiety disorder are not getting treatment. The key, then, is awareness and the ability to spot how anxiety manifests itself in your child’s behavior.  

One thing is for sure—anxiety affects every child differently. Because anxiety is such a complex condition that is unique to each person, the symptoms vary greatly from child to child. Below are some of the more common indications that your child may be suffering from anxiety.

Avoidance

Again, everyone will experience anxiety from time to time, as it is a normal reaction to stress. However, an anxiety disorder begins to come into play when children start to exhibit avoidance behaviors. Because anxiety creates such a sense of helplessness, sufferers begin to avoid anxiety-inducing situations all together. For instance, if your child appears to be intentionally and regularly avoiding friends or activities, it may be in an effort to escape the anxiety that is produced in certain situations.

Inability to be comforted

Children with an anxiety disorder cope differently depending on each situation. One common thread is that, when anxiety strikes, the child is likely not easily comforted by a parent’s attention or coddling. This is obviously difficult for parents to understand, as your number one role is to comfort and soothe your child’s anguish. Just remember that anxiety can be an all-consuming emotional reaction to stress—one that is not eased simply with attention and hugs.  

Abnormally withdrawn

Shyness is typical in children. However, a child with an anxiety disorder is not only shy, but noticeably intimidated, withdrawn, and reluctant to engage with others. A child with anxiety may also be resistant to making eye contact, especially during one-on-one conversations. Avoiding eye contact or reluctance to speak (selective mutism) are signs that social interactions produce debilitating anxiety for your child. Social anxiety disorder affects children specifically in social situations. This may occur when a child feels uncomfortable with direct attention, large group settings, or meeting new people.

While occasional anxiety is typical and varies from child to child, it is important to know the common signs of a possibly larger problem. Statistics indicate that 1 in every 8 children will suffer from an anxiety disorder. With such a staggering number of affected children, awareness is the first line of defense when diagnosing and treating anxiety. For parents, knowing the signs and symptoms of a larger issue will mean the difference between proactively managing the condition and suffering in silence.  

 

It’s Not Always What it Seems: Anxiety in the Classroom

 

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Anxiety is something that educators are seeing more and more of in our children. With countless theories on the causes of this rising diagnosis, one thing is for sure—anxiety affects every child differently. Because anxiety is such a complex condition that is unique to each person, the symptoms vary from child to child. In fact, the symptoms may even vary from situation to situation. For instance, a child with anxiety may display different symptoms in different situations throughout the day.  Anxiety may manifest itself differently from classroom to classroom simply because of the environment or different stressors present.

Because anxiety presents itself in many different ways, it is often hard to initially see or understand, especially in the classroom. With this knowledge, it is important that teachers take a closer look at different behaviors and tendencies. For instance, a child with anxiety may present different behaviors depending on comfort level.

Here are a few signs to look for in children who may be suffering from anxiety:

Eye Contact

A child with anxiety may be resistant to making eye contact, especially during one-on-one conversations. It is important for educators to be mindful that the lack of eye contact is not a defiant or dismissive behavior. Instead, direct eye contact may be intimidating or anxiety-producing because the child feels uncomfortable with the direct attention. This can often be closely related to a more specific form of anxiety called social anxiety disorder. Children who suffer with social anxiety disorder exhibit symptoms of anxiety when they feel that all eyes are on them. Especially in social situations, such as in a classroom, a child may be reluctant to participate, work with others, or even answer one-on-one questions because of the discomfort.

Inattentiveness

Similarly, a child with anxiety may appear aloof, inattentive, or “checked out” during classroom instruction. Again, this may be an anxiety disorder rearing its head. A child with generalized anxiety disorder is often consumed with worries, fears, or concerns about an aspect of his or her life. When children fixate on a concern or worry, they are likely unable to concentrate in the classroom. This is very different from a student that is simply bored or disinterested. Furthermore, the constant fixation and worrying often continues at home, making it difficult for children to refocus or “power down.” The GAD symptoms will often result in insomnia or restlessness.

Irritability

Sometimes due to the insomnia, students with anxiety may exhibit irritability at school, as well. Of course, when sleep is regularly disrupted by anxiety, a child may appear to be more fatigued or ill-tempered. This type of behavior is different from a child who is simply choosing to disrupt or defy. When anxiety takes over, the irritability is simply an outlet for the frustration and stress.

With this in mind, it is important for teachers to identify behavioral concerns that are separate from the anxiety disorder. Often times, taking a little breather or moment to get a drink of water will be enough to allow the student to reset and alleviate the stress.