Spring is here and the school year is finally winding down. Summer is just around the corner, and for many kids this is a fun time of year – a time to enjoy the nicer weather, look forward to summer vacations, and wrap up a successful academic year. However, for many families, this time of year can be a real struggle. For students who have learning disabilities or emotional challenges, the end of the school year is a time when there is almost no gas left in the tank – low motivation, exhaustion, and the pile-up effect of disorganization and stress over the course of the year.
In my work providing teen therapy in Washington D.C. and Bethesda, MD, I see a lot of students who struggle with mood, anxiety, ADHD, learning issues, and executive functioning deficits. The final weeks of school are not a triumphant sprint to the finish line for these kids– it’s more like a slow, grueling push to complete the year with every last internal resource and external support available. If this sounds like your son or daughter, here are some strategies for managing the end of the school year :
1. Help them get organized
If you have a child with ADHD or executive functioning issues, organization is already a big challenge for them, and by the end of the school year they are probably doing worse rather than better on this front because they are running out of steam. If your child is feeling overwhelmed emotionally at the end of the school year, then this impairs their ability to organize and plan out their time. Sit down together at least a couple times a week to look at their calendar: make sure that due dates for final projects are clearly marked. Block off study time for preparing for exams. Go through backpacks together and make sure that work has been handed in – they might not need this help all year long, but they might be relieved to have the help at this point.
2. Focus on one day at a time and one task at a time
The end of the school year comes with a lot of big tests, papers, and projects. When tasks are this many, this big, and this long-term, it can be totally overwhelming and cause someone to mentally shut down – procrastination can easily become the main coping method at this point in the year. Encourage your kids to break down their tasks rather than breaking down internally. Make checklists and cross things off as they get done. Remind your kids to focus on one thing at a time and take one day at a time. Ask specific questions like, “What do you need to do as the first step to get this project started?” and encouraging completing one subject at a time with limited distractions. If you see a melt-down coming when you start talking about exams, ask “What can you do right now for 15 minutes that will help you be more prepared?” Focusing on the here and now helps to manage anxiety.
3. Plan (time-limited) breaks for relaxation
Anxious students tend to overwork themselves and forget to take breaks, while procrastinators spend long blocks of time to watch tv/socialize/use social media while they put off work until the last minute. Neither of these approaches is healthy! Encourage spending a dedicated amount of time on school work with intermittent breaks which should include some kind of relaxation strategy. Self-care and relaxation is important for lowering stress and making the time spent on work more productive. Taking a walk outside, doing a 5-minute guided meditation or a yoga routine, or doing an art activity are great ways to take a break that is mindful and soothing.
4. Engage supports
Identify what the challenges are and figure out what supports are needed. Maybe the above advice is enough help – but if you have a kid who is having emotional meltdowns, failing to turn in work, or the conflict at home is escalating, you should look into additional supports. If your child is resistant to your help on homework but they are struggling, look into getting a tutor or a homework coach, even if it is just for 4th quarter. If the emotional intensity of their stress seems out of proportion, check in with their school counselor for support or consider having them see a therapist to learn coping strategies. Depending on your child’s age and learning needs, it might also make sense to touch base with their teachers to communicate about the challenges your child is having and get extra help or accommodations.
Think about what approaches will be most effective for communicating and engaging your child in all of these strategies – using these plus outside supports can help students get through a very stressful time. The good news is, summer is just around the corner!