It’s that time of year again: essay topics are rolling in and new project deadlines are popping up. The holiday break is over, but spring break is so far away it’s not even on the horizon. It’s back to a well-rehearsed routine, where professors and teachers are maintaining a rigorous schedule of homework and the school year has lost its luster.
We’ve reached the halfway point in the school year—a time when students begin to feel bored, overwhelmed, and listless about learning. As their biggest cheerleaders, parents and caregivers can do several things to help students power through the second semester and reach the end of the school year with a strong finish.
Though kids develop their own personalities as they grow, they also reflect the adults who have an influence in their lives. As an adult role model, it’s important to maintain and convey a positive outlook, even if you, too, are feeling frustrated and burnt out by the school year. Of course, if you have concerns about your student’s schooling, it is important to address them, but do so with teachers directly. Kids pick up on and emulate negative attitudes toward homework and other school-related issues if they constantly hear that messaging and especially if they’re already feeling that way. Remind them of past academic accomplishments and continue to offer positive feedback and reinforcement—even if it sounds like a broken record.
Once upon a time, people thought students needed to put their heads down and focus on their work until it was finished. However, a 2011 research study by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign showed that intensely focusing on a single task for a long period of time results in a decline in performance. Taking study breaks actually increases productivity once kids get back to work. This doesn’t mean all study breaks are created equal, nor should they last too long. Encourage your kids to grab a small snack, stretch, or take a walk around the block. In fact, a moderate amount of cardio activity has been shown to enhance creativity and productivity for up to two hours. Avoid spending break time on the computer or playing video games because eyes need some time to refocus and rest as well.
By the middle of the school year, many families feel the crunch of school work, after-school activities, and social obligations. Unfortunately, high-quality family time may take a backseat as parents run their kids from school to violin lessons to soccer practice. One way to help fight burnout is specifically scheduling time to eat healthy dinners together. In addition to having a myriad of health-related benefits, setting aside time for family meals provides a sense of structure amid often chaotic schedules and an opportunity for parents to observe changes in their kids’ moods and behaviors. A 2014 study by the American College of Pediatricians also noted that teens who have frequent family dinners are more likely to get better grades in school. Additionally, family time improves socio-emotional health, which allows kids to adapt to the school environment and perform better academically.
It’s important to set short-term goals to complete assignments that pile up, but all these small tasks are meant to prepare students for their long-term goals such as graduating from high school, attending college and getting a job. Talk to kids about what kind of careers they see themselves doing, and how the classes they’re taking today will help them reach that point. Keep in mind that it’s not necessarily specific facts they are learning that are important as much as it is the skills they acquire during class and doing schoolwork like critical thinking and problem-solving. Ultimately, all those history essays, lab reports, English papers and long, stressful days will come to an end—at least for this school year. At the very least, keeping an eye on this school year’s end game and making fun plans for the coming months can help. Before you know it, summer vacation will be here.