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.

Encouraging Independence and Self-Advocacy in the Classroom

Instruction in the primary grades is full of crucial elements and concepts—academic, social, and foundational skills that truly set students up for success. Besides the actual content-based curricula, elementary students should be exposed to essential tools and methods for fostering and developing self-advocacy, self-sufficiency, and autonomy in order to prepare them for their later years of academia and real-world challenges.

Classroom Practices and Procedures
Prepare students from the beginning of the school year by implementing and adhering to specific and consistent routines. For example, teachers may choose to begin each day or lesson with a warm-up to initiate thinking, spur conversation, and introduce concepts. Notably, a warm-up procedure can play double duty for teachers who hope to build independence among students.

 

Teachers should:

  • Introduce the warm-up procedure and expectations so that students know exactly what is expected of them when they enter the room.
  • Model the warm-up process and begin with simple questions or sentence frames to allow elementary students to focus primarily on the routine at first.
  • Evaluate or assess the warm-ups right from the beginning so that students apply a sense of value or importance to the daily practice/procedure.
  • Remain consistent with the procedure and expectations for each warm-up so that students are able to grasp the process and begin to initiate it each day on their own.

With a few weeks of practice, a simple warm-up lesson will begin to help prompt students to initiate a more independent work ethic. Because the process has been explicitly taught, modeled, and rehearsed, elementary students can quickly grasp the concept of activating, self-monitoring, and assessing their thinking.

Introduce the concept of self-advocacy by starting with a means of organizing the night’s homework assignments.

Similarly to the warm-up, teachers should introduce the mandatory practice of writing down the homework at the very start of the class. Emphasize the fact that writing down homework assignments, even if the assignment is “none,” is not optional. This helps students begin to adopt organizational strategies and self-management tools. Writing down the homework every class period also prompts self-advocacy in the sense that students begin to take ownership of the work that they must complete at home.

 

Teachers should:

  • Keep assignment titles brief but clear so that students know exactly what they are to be completing at home.
  • Clearly announce and write down due dates and deadlines so that students can copy those essential details as well.
  • Monitor agenda completion and subtly check or signature the daily assignments, especially for students with executive functioning needs. This helps hold students accountable for capturing the homework assignment and allows parents to see that teachers have signed off that the homework that was written down is correct.
  • Encourage students to checkmark or cross off homework and agenda items as they are completed. Again, this helps students to practice self-monitoring and organizational strategies.

Plan weekly or biweekly conferences to check in with students on their current classwork, writing progress, recent assessments, etc.

These brief, five-minute, one-on-one conferences encourage students to speak up on their behalf regarding any missing classwork, confusing concepts, or recent grade changes. It also provides a time for teachers to check in on any potential areas of need on the individual level. In doing this, elementary students can begin to see that they play an active and essential role in their learning and development in school. They also begin to see the teacher as their ally, someone who is there to help them reach their goals and conquer obstacles.

 

Teachers should:

  • Prompt students to ask questions by providing samples of guiding questions or sentence frames to initiate the conversation.
  • Offer students the option to write down their questions or concerns; this is especially helpful for shy or reluctant students who may need a little encouragement when speaking on their own behalf.
  • Consider using data folders, charts, progress checks, or any other method of organizing data so that students have a tangible, visual collection of work to evaluate and discuss. A data folder also allows students an additional opportunity to organize and review completed work, which aids in the process of self-advocacy as well.

Back-to-School Health and Safety Tips for Parents


Heading back to school is an exciting time for families of elementary schoolers. Oftentimes, the excitement and anticipation take center stage, but going back to school can also mean stress for children and parents. Once the obligatory first day photos, school shopping, new sneakers, packed lunch boxes, and orientations are handled, the anticipation dwindles, replaced with questions like, “What now?” or “What have we forgotten?” Below are the nuts and bolts of ensuring a healthy and safe start for heading back to elementary school.

1. Avoid skipping breakfast at all costs. Like many kids, your child may not experience hunger immediately upon waking. This can turn breakfast into an afterthought, which can quickly become a major pitfall if children begin skipping breakfast regularly. If your children are not keen on eating right away, see about waking them a little earlier to allow for more time in the morning before school. Even a measly 15 minutes could be enough time to spur a desire for breakfast. The longer he or she is awake before heading off to school, the more likely it is that he/she will want something to eat. If all else fails, consider stashing breakfast bars, fruit, or drinkable yogurts for the car ride so that your child has an option for last-minute nibbling before heading into school.

2. Those back-to-school shoes may be super cute; however, the blisters that accompany their first wear will not be. Encourage your child to put comfort first when picking out school outfits. We all know that even the tiniest blister can produce excruciating pain. This can make recess, walking around the cafeteria, P.E., etc. unbearable. Consider breaking those new shoes in over the weekend and packing a few bandaids in the lunchbox just in case. Similarly, depending on the school, or even from one classroom to another, temperature can vary drastically. With air conditioning, or the lack thereof, children can become uncomfortable and distracted if they are sweating or shivering all day. Encourage layers to ensure comfort throughout the day and from room to room. However, because of the likelihood that that sweater or long sleeve will come off at any given time in the school day, personalized clothing labels or even Sharpie initials can ensure that lost items become found and clothing makes it home.

3. If your child has a food allergy, no matter how severe, be sure that the school knows about the dietary restrictions. Beyond the school nurse, teachers, paraeducators, building staff and cafeteria aids should be aware of any severe food allergies. Anything from treats shared at school, arts and crafts materials, cleaning products, air fresheners, etc., can contain allergens or may be processed and packaged alongside allergens. To avoid the possibility of a reaction, consider sending a “just in case” email to school to ensure that health records are updated and all staff are aware of the food allergy. Some parents find it helpful to send their child to school with fun “about me” cards with their child’s photo and dietary restrictions listed. These “business cards” are especially helpful for young elementary schoolers. They can also contain any information about epipen use, emergency contacts, and the pediatrician or allergist’s phone number.

4. For children who are extremely sensitive to the sun and prone to sunburn, ask the school if it is okay for your child to pack and apply travel sunscreen for recess, physical education, soccer practice, or any other outdoor activities. Outdoor time can amount to an hour or more, depending on the child’s school; this leaves plenty of time for sun exposure and subsequent burn. School policy will likely prohibit teachers or other school staff from applying sunscreen, so consider purchasing an easy-to-apply option for your child to apply it himself. The roll-on, deodorant-looking sticks work great for quick-drying, easy application.

5. Remind your child to drink water throughout the day. This is an obvious tidbit; however, school nurses report dehydration as one of the major catalysts to most school illnesses and nurse visits. Obviously, water fountains are aplenty in schools, but also ask if water bottles are allowed in class. Having water at hand provides a constant reminder to sip throughout the day to stay hydrated, alert, and focused.

Back to School: Combating the Sunday Scaries

Back to school means a resurgence of the feeling that parents, teachers, and elementary schoolers alike all dread—the Sunday scaries. This alliterative term, while somewhat melodramatic, describes the true sensation of angst or nervousness that begins to bubble up around Sunday evening. Whether the Sunday scaries emerge from the nervousness surrounding an impending due date, upcoming quiz, or just the general apprehension about the school week ahead, we all can relate to that sudden foreboding sense that can quickly turn a calm, lazy Sunday into a frenzied mess.

It’s best to be prepared. Here are some strategies for elementary schoolers to combat the “Sunday Scaries”:

Get organized
For the first few years of early elementary school, organization falls mainly on the parents’ shoulders. However, little by little, elementary schoolers will begin to observe how organizational skills help to mediate stress and maintain order for the school week ahead. Depending on grade level, organization could simply mean that children help their parents plan Monday’s outfit, lay out clothes for P.E. or after-school activities, assist with preliminary packing of the lunch box, or place backpacks and other essentials by the front door. As children get older, the responsibility for getting themselves organized for the week ahead can begin to become theirs alone.

Organization is fundamental for elementary schoolers because it allows them to begin planning ahead, anticipating certain needs, contemplating the order of operations, etc. All of these life skills will become essential as children develop and gain autonomy. For now, parents can begin with something as simple as helping their child check the weather when planning for Monday’s outfit: Might we need an umbrella? Should we pack a light jacket? Will it be too cold for flip flops? These considerations help children feel secure in their planning by showing them what to expect as they head off to school, which certainly helps to ward off the Sunday scaries.

Break out the checklist
Consider the scaries as proportionate to the amount of tasks to be accomplished before bedtime. We all know that feeling—Sunday scaries become increasingly more beastly as the to-do list piles up. To avoid the added stress, families can create a general weekend checklist of items that need to be accomplished during Saturday/Sunday downtime. By creating a checklist, families know exactly what needs to be completed in order to ensure a smooth start to the school week. The checklist also helps elementary schoolers divvy up the tasks throughout the weekend so that Sunday night does not have to turn into the daunting bewitching hour where everything goes off the rails.

Organization comes into play again here with the checklist. Parents can help younger elementary schoolers by helping to prioritize the weekend checklist. For instance, homework or reading assignments should come close to the top of the list, as those items, especially when procrastinated, can become anxiety-producing.

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. Oftentimes, stress of the unknown is what creates anxiety for school-aged children. 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, c) events and tasks are evenly spaced as to not overbook any member of the family.

Laying out the weekly calendar also helps to build independence among school-aged children. They begin to recognize their own important tasks, practices, appointments, etc. This allows them to begin to feel a sense of control over what will go on in the week ahead.