5 Tips for Preparing Students After Holiday Breaks
Holiday Breaks Can Feel Like Emotional Rollercoasters
There’s nothing like a school break—the deep belly excitement leading to the extra time off to rest, spend with friends and family, and not focus on school. The return, however, can sometimes be so triggering for some that it clouds the entire break. Even a three-day weekend poses difficult transitions for students, teachers, and parents alike.
I know the struggle all too well having spent my entire life (up until this year) in school—either as a teacher or a student. Below are 5 of my favorite tips for returning to school that I used as a student, for myself as a teacher, for my students, and in my family unit. These tips can support important conversations, encourage positive self-talk, provide useful tools, encourage focusing on the present moment, and prioritize family time.
Have A Meaningful Touchbase
Model your own self-awareness and emotional regulation skills by fostering a meaningful conversation about breaks and returning to school. As simple as it sounds, having direct, honest, and vulnerable conversations can do wonders for connecting with your learner. The below model worked well for my family unit, with one person sharing at a time, and the rest offering genuine listening and support. You can modify the model as you need:
Step 1: Identify your Emotional State from 1 – 100
“Right now, I am at a ____ %”
If you fall at 1, that means you have very low energy, emotional bandwidth, and resilience at the moment. If you fall at 100, that means your cup is full, you feel energized, fulfilled, and ready to tackle the day, and able to support others.
Step 2: Share Your Struggles
“I am struggling with ______, and I need ______.”
This is your chance to model naming and normalizing struggles and helpful ways to cope with those struggles. You can share how you feel about returning to work and how to make it easier for yourself. You can share struggles that you faced as a student when returning from breaks, how you coped then, and what you would choose now.
Step 3: Use A Chart To Label Emotions
“I am… excited, nervous, happy, pleased, confused, frustrated, disappointed, worried, missing, pondering, distracted, ashamed, grieving, joyous, grateful… for/by/about _____.”
Add as many feeling words as you can to build your household’s emotional vocabulary. The responses can relate to school, break, or anything coming up in the future. Working through this model allows for compassion, genuine listening, and active emotional regulation skills in a SAFE container.
Write A Note For Your Future Self
Before every winter break, I would write myself a letter or positive sticky notes to find after returning to school. I thoroughly looked forward to this tradition as a student and as a teacher. Without fail, I would forget where I hid some notes and find them exactly when I needed that little dose of strength.
It is really important to have your learner write these notes for themselves to encourage positive self-talk. And yes, feel free to keep writing lunchbox notes for them too.
Create A Stressor/Coping Mechanism Chart
“When I feel __________, I can help myself by __________.”
After you’ve fostered your meaningful conversation, you can dig deep into specific stressors at school and create coping mechanisms to help accordingly. Ask your learner to write these coping mechanisms down in their planners, binders, or on post-it notes for their pockets. My one warning is this: Make sure the coping mechanism you select actually helps the difficulty it’s intended to address.
For example, if your student is stressed about returning to school because they struggle with social anxiety, a helpful coping mechanism would be to repeat positive affirmations throughout the day such as, “I am worthy to be here. I am worthy of connection. I can make friends easily. When I am authentic, I will attract my people.” It might not be helpful to take a walk around the hallway because that doesn’t treat the root issue of social anxiety. Yes, it will give the student a momentary break, but it will not help them reframe their anxious thoughts.
Practice Mindful Breathing Together
The best part about mindful breathing is that you can practice anytime, anywhere, for however long you want. Set a timer for 1 minute to start out, and simply notice your breath. As you practice more, you can increase the time.
My favorite breathwork practices are:
- Box Breathing (For regulating the nervous system)
- Thought Labeling (For not judging thoughts and focusing on the present)
- Lion’s Breath (For finding joy, creativity, and comfort in your body)
Continue Fun, Meaningful Family Activities After the Breaks
Holidays are special because they’re typically filled with everything we need—joy, community, quality family time, rest, nourishing food, travel, and self-care. Don’t let these rituals stop after holiday breaks. Make a point to regularly schedule meaningful family time throughout the year so the breaks don’t feel like such jarring transitions. Day trips, cooking together, rest days, etc. are all excellent practices to continue during regular, old weeks.
If you try any of these tips and have success (or not), feel free to reach out!
About the Author
Kat St.Pierre (she/her) is a former 8th grade English teacher turned freelance content/copywriter. Passionate about being kind to others, the planet, and herself, she loves using her voice to amplify important conversations and educate with empathy. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.katstpierre.com.