The spring sillies. Ants in the pants. Like frogs in a bucket. However you describe it, it can only mean one thing: Spring has arrived! As the weather warms, adults are faced with rooms full of restless little ones who can’t concentrate on classwork or wait for recess. In the face of this seasonal energy surge, how can you get your child (or students) to keep calm and carry on?
Recent research reported in the journal Scientific American concluded that everyone thinks more clearly during the long, cold winter. The study found that adults have a harder time making a decision when it’s hot and that they often take the easier, less complicated option when faced with a choice. The reasons for this aren’t entirely clear, but scientists speculate that mind-body balance in hot weather might require more mental energy, making it harder to concentrate on complex tasks.
Hot temperatures could affect thinking in kids too, but there may also be other, less obvious reasons for a child’s changing behavior. To manage your kid during the spring season, learn to recognize the factors that might contribute to your little one’s fading focus and create some effective strategies to deal with them.
- Alleviate test trauma. Springtime is also test time in many schools. High-stakes testing that comes at the end of the year can mean different and more stressful learning methods, such as the dreaded “drill and kill,” says Thomas McIntyre, Ph.D., a child behavior specialist and professor at Hunter College of the City University of New York. The term refers to skills that are taught to children solely to help them succeed on standardized tests, and then are forgotten soon after. If your kid's reacting badly to this lesson plan change, talk to his teacher to see how best to deal with the change. Plan after-school activities that allow him to take a break from stressful studies and burn off some energy, such as a trip to the playground or park.
- Test for allergies. Don’t assume that spring fever is all in your child’s head—it may also be in his nose or chest. Allergies make kids uncomfortable, and very young children may not know how to describe these feelings to their parents. If your little learner starts to fidget in class or complain that he can’t think or doesn’t feel well, have him evaluated and address any underlying physical issues.
- Advocate against lax lesson plans. McIntyre also cautions teachers to “maintain the honor of the profession” by sticking to high standards as spring approaches. “Remember, the school year ends on the last scheduled day," he says. "It's unfair to kids to schedule hours of non-instructional activities just because ‘summer is coming’ and ‘I’m tired of teaching.’" Throwing out planned activities because the group is restless can be tempting, but it could be bad for group and individual behavior in the long-term. This is a great time of year for parents to step up and ask how they can support the class (and teacher) so educators can focus on creating compelling lessons.
- Lose the bad attitude. Adults can be infected with spring fever too. Look at your own attitude as the season heats up. Are you getting a little snippy or impatient as you get your student ready for school? Your child takes his cues from you and if you're cranky about going to the office when you’d rather be at the beach, your baby will pick up on this mindset and start complaining about school or think it’s okay to slack off. Be patient, stay centered and set a good example, no matter what your mood is.
- Say "no" to junk food. The ice cream truck is often an early sign of the changing season. As the weather gets better, your kid may start clamoring for sweet treats, junk food or other spring and summer staples. The changing climate means a changing diet and it’s not always for the better. Keep an eye on your kid’s sugar intake, and make sure that as activity levels increase, your child stays hydrated—with water and not high-fructose soda. Take note of any behavioral changes if sweets sneak in to help yourself stay aware of how food choices are affecting your child's behavior.
- Get outside. Sometimes kids just need space. But don’t just let the pressure build and then let kids loose. Tricia Striano, Ph.D., psychology professor at Hunter College and founder of HowBabiesLearn.com, recommends regular outside time as a reward for work well done. Children “often want simply to be outside at the playground and at the park,” she says. “Parents might want to develop a sticker chart. Homework complete or chores complete means some hours of outside play.” The same goes for teachers; outdoor activities can happen when work is done and they should be planned and have a purpose. Unexpected outdoor time that just serves to give the grown-ups a break can make kids even antsier.
Above all, be mindful and raise your awareness of why good weather causes bad behavior, and you can bring some sensitivity and serenity to the spring season, both in the classroom and at home.