Supporting students with the transition back to school after winter break

The transition back to school after holiday break has its challenges. In this piece, we highlight the social-emotional struggles students might experience after the holiday break, and how teletherapy can help
9 Minutes
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Updated
Published
January 11, 2024

Returning to school after the holidays can be difficult for many students as they reestablish routines, gear up for the second half of the school year, and process any emotions or concerns that may have come up during the break. 

While students of all ages can struggle with mental health challenges at any point during their K-12 journey, students of different ages typically have different challenges. Younger students might experience challenges such as separation anxiety or school refusal, which can make the return back to school especially tough. Older students more often struggle with a lack of motivation, social anxiety, or academic stress

For all students, consistency is key. Returning to school requires reestablishing routines, reconnecting with peers, revisiting academic and personal goals, and readjusting to teachers' expectations.

This blog highlights some social-emotional struggles students might experience when returning to school after a long break and discusses how teletherapy helps support students.

The role of teletherapy in supporting students

Providing mental health support is one tool schools can adopt to help address chronic absenteeism and school refusal. Teletherapy helps students of all ages process emotions. It offers students a safe space to talk about their feelings and equips students with effective coping strategies to manage their emotions and stressors. With the help of a therapist, students identify and learn to work through the emotions that influence school refusal and chronic absenteeism.

Additionally, students might have experienced loneliness and isolation or faced family conflict over the holiday break. These emotions can be difficult for the student to process alone. Through conversations with their therapist, students can begin to understand their emotions, whether that be anxiety about being back in school or processing a traumatic family event that took place at home. 

School refusal and chronic absenteeism

School refusal is an extreme pattern of avoiding school. A variety of factors cause school refusal. Some common causes include:

  • Anxiety and fear about the school environment
  • Social anxiety, difficulty making friends, social rejection, or bullying
  • Academic challenges, learning disabilities, or too much academic pressure
  • Problems at home, family dynamics
  • Mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety disorder
  • Traumatic events such as the loss of a loved one, abuse, or significant life changes

Periods of transition, such as returning to school after the holidays, can trigger school refusal. Some students avoid school by claiming to have headaches or stomach aches. Too many unexplained sick days might be a sign that a student is using excuses to get out of school or experiencing stress and anxiety. 

Consistent, long-term refusal may lead to chronic absenteeism. Chronic absenteeism is a growing concern, affecting more than 20-30% of students. Students are chronically absent when they miss 15 or more school days during the school year.

Chronic absenteeism significantly challenges a student’s academic progress and overall well-being. It can lead to academic underachievement, gaps in learning, and difficulty maintaining healthy peer relationships. A student experiencing chronic absenteeism is more likely to drop out, which impacts their future educational and career opportunities. The negative impact of chronic absenteeism affects not only the individual student but also the family unit, school community and educational system. 

Social anxiety

While some students thrive in social settings, others may struggle with social anxiety. Students experiencing social anxiety may have a fear of judgment and might avoid group projects or activities. In severe cases, a student with social anxiety might experience physical symptoms such as an increased heart rate in social situations. Chronic social anxiety can lead to students avoiding school, hesitating to participate in classroom discussions, or, in severe cases, chronic absenteeism.

Teletherapy provides students with social anxiety a safe space to express their emotions, develop coping mechanisms and tools, and build their confidence. Therapists provide students with strategies to manage social situations comfortably.

How Hazel therapists helps students overcome anxiety

“Since starting the program, the student has only missed one day of school, which was due to physical illness, not anxiety. They reported using techniques such as ‘challenging irrational thoughts’ to overcome anxieties. The student is motivated to move past challenges by using the skills we’ve worked on together!” - Hazel Health therapist

Academic stress

Students often face considerable stress when it comes to academic expectations. Returning to school after the break can be difficult for students who struggled with academics during the first semester or for students with pressure on their academic performance. Academic stress can be both intrinsic and extrinsic.  

Returning to school after a break might be difficult for students who:

  • May not have achieved their academic goals before the break
  • Are taking a new set of classes and adjusting to new expectations
  • Are struggling with academic gaps 

Academic stress can manifest in various ways, including sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, and feeling overwhelmed. For some students, the fear of failure can be paralyzing and keep them from reaching their full potential or even attending school in the first place.

Through teletherapy, students learn stress management techniques, such as deep breathing. Therapists will teach time management skills and how to seek academic support when needed and help students understand the importance of balancing academic pursuits with self-care.

The importance of routine

The holiday break changes students’ regular routines, and it can be tricky to reestablish routines for the latter half of the school year. A healthy routine should include winding down before bed, morning routines, and healthy eating habits.

Teletherapy helps students and their families establish healthy routines. Therapists talk with students and help them understand the importance of consistency, helping students begin to understand the link between healthy habits and their mental health. 

Therapists often suggest parents and teachers incorporate visual schedules into their young student or child's day. Visual schedules allow younger students to follow throughout the day to know what’s coming next. 

An example of a visual daily schedule

Goal setting and healthy expectations

Students of all ages benefit from setting goals and understanding expectations. Beyond academic achievements, students should be encouraged to reflect on personal growth and aspirations. Discussing goals can develop a sense of responsibility and lead students to “feel in control of their learning.” 

In teletherapy, students work with their therapist to establish goals, revisit them, and celebrate every small victory, adjusting expectations as needed.  Incorporating goal-setting into a student’s routine builds confidence and resilience!

Easing the back-to-school transition after a long break

The return to school after winter break demands a thoughtful approach to students' mental well-being. Whether dealing with separation anxiety or academic stress, these challenges affect both younger and older students, impacting their academic journey and personal development.

Consistency in routines and the utilization of teletherapy are strategies that can help. Teletherapy offers a secure space for students to express emotions, develop coping mechanisms, and navigate the complexities of school life, addressing chronic absenteeism and fostering resilience.

By addressing social anxiety, academic stress, and the disruptions post-holiday, teletherapy empowers students to manage their emotions. Prioritizing routine, goal-setting and healthy expectations ensures academic success while nurturing a sense of control. 

Do you have a child struggling with the transition back to school after the recent holiday break? Learn more about how Hazel therapists support students throughout the year. 

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About Hazel

Hazel Health, the leader in school-based telehealth, partners with school districts to provide mental and physical health services to K-12 students where they are–at school or home. Hazel’s diverse, culturally competent providers specialize in the health challenges of children and teens and partner with parents and school staff to make the best care decisions for students. Hazel is committed to improving health care equity and is available regardless of family income, geography, insurance status, or ability to pay. Hazel’s mission is to transform children’s access to health care, because when students feel better, they learn better.

Learn more at hazel.co.

About Hazel

Hazel Health, the leader in school-based telehealth, partners with school districts to provide mental and physical health services to K-12 students where they are–at school or home. Hazel's diverse, culturally competent providers work with parents and school staff to transform children's access to health care, because when students feel better, they learn better.

Learn more at hazel.co.

About Hazel

Hazel Health, the leader in school-based telehealth, partners with school districts to provide mental and physical health services to K-12 students where they are–at school or home. Hazel serves nearly 2 million students across 100 school districts, helping to reduce chronic absenteeism and unfinished learning by addressing gaps in health care access. As an extension of the school health team, Hazel helps schools immediately address student physical and mental health care needs. Hazel’s mission is to transform children’s access to health care because when students feel better, they learn better.

Learn more at Hazel.co/hazel-in-schools.

About Hazel

Hazel Health, the leader in school-based telehealth, partners with school districts to provide mental and physical health services to K-12 students where they are–at school or home. Hazel helps school districts address chronic absenteeism, unfinished learning, and school enrollment, by addressing gaps in health care access.

Learn more at Hazel.co/hazel-in-schools.

About Hazel

Hazel Health, the leader in school-based telehealth, partners with school districts and families to provide mental and physical health services to K-12 students where they are–at school or home. Instead of waiting for an appointment with a doctor or therapist, children can see a Hazel provider for a telehealth visit, at no cost to families. With guardian permission, Hazel’s telehealth platform allows children to connect with a health care provider within minutes, or a therapist within days of referral. Hazel’s providers can help with everything from allergies and stomach aches to anxiety and depression. With Hazel, children can get the care they need when they need it.

Learn more at Hazel.co/how-hazel-works.

About Hazel

Hazel Health, the leader in school-based telehealth, partners with school districts and families to provide mental and physical health services to K-12 students where they are–at school or home. At no cost, and regardless of insurance status, Hazel’s providers can help with everything from allergies and stomach aches to anxiety and depression. With Hazel, children can get the care they need when they need it.

Learn more at Hazel.co/how-hazel-works.

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