Q: After the Holiday Break My Son Seems To Be Unable To Get Back In “School Mode.” Is this normal?
TARA’S ANSWER: Breaks from the routine of school or work are essential to helping regroup. The key to regrouping is downtime that allows for play using both the brain and the body. The hope for these breaks is that children get an opportunity to enjoy themselves in a way that also promotes creativity, and in a sense, rejuvenating the brain. However, in many cases even during short breaks from school, our kids have every moment scheduled negating the downtime aspect of the break.
The winter break is usually chock full of sensory bombardment like, for example, auditory stimulation from various sources including relatives, more TV than usual, music and party atmospheres. Visual stimulation changes from paying attention to what is on a white board or books to very stimulating visual information including TV (again) as well as the various holiday lights on display.
It becomes a matter of shifting gears. If the scheduled fun includes seeing family and friends (which alters their schedules significantly), but simultaneously does not allow for downtime to regroup, what happens is that children are scheduled for fun (our definition) and that may consist of later bed times, not sleeping in their own bed and a lot of over-stimulation including constant interaction with others, toys, TV and sweets. This type of stimulation may be fun for the child but is non-predictable and totally out of their control.
Get Back To It – NOW
Once it ends, we expect the child to transition into usual structured, scheduled environment of school. It is a jolt of sensory information. BOOM, now you must sit all day, take in information that doesn’t blink, pound or otherwise get your attention and you must not have your attention stray at all starting IMMEDIATELY. This is hard for anybody, much less a child.
What Parents Can Do
When your family travels, especially after holiday trips, it helps to return home in time for your child to go to sleep in his own bed and wake up at the usual school time to allow the body to adjust. To recoup from the holidays, declare a “regroup” day. This special down-time allows your child to organize his materials including school stuff, clothes, etc.
Also, infuse quiet cognitive activities throughout the day. Start with reflecting on, in sequential order, what he did during the holiday break. For kids that can write, have them list what they did, in 1-to-10 order. Pull out the book that they were reading and the math they were working before the break came and reintroduce it in a non-pressured way so that they have a segue into the first week of school. Another great strategy is to be sure the weekends in January have quite a bit of down-time. Just like us adults, it takes weeks, not days, for kids to adjust back to the normal schedule.
Tara Delaney is a nationally known child development expert who specializes in sensory processing, autism spectrum disorders, and social/behavioral issues. She is the author of two books: The Sensory Processing Disorder Answer Book (Sourcebooks) and 101 Games and Activities for Children with Autism, Asperger’s and Sensory Processing Disorders (McGraw-Hill). An active occupational therapist, Tara is also the Founder/Executive Director of Baby Steps Therapy, a nonprofit clinical practice focused on helping every child achieve his or her greatest potential in the classroom and beyond. Visit her web site at www.taradelaney.com.