Dueling with the Doldrums… 

This is a guest post by Dr Emilie DeYoung

As February comes to a close and we embark on March, you may be sensing the seasonal doldrums that accompany the loooooong period between Christmas Vacation and Spring Break. For school calendars, the months of January, February, and March often experience an ‘educational surge’ where students encounter more frequent tests and receive larger loads of homework. In addition, limited light due to shorter days and cloudy weather can perpetuate already irritable moods. What is a mentor to do? Let me offer just a few thoughts. 

First, watch for changes in the student that you are mentoring. You might have a typically, talkative ten-year-old who begins to withdraw, or complains of being tired or sad. Or, perhaps your ‘busy’ boy loses interest in activities that have been favorites for weeks. Or, your gentle second grader begins to exhibit signs of anger and aggression. While there are a multitude of possibilities behind these changes, they might be indicators of depression or possibly, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). While we often attach the notion of SAD to adults, kids can experience seasonal mood shifts as well. Common symptoms of SAD include fatigue, irritability, withdrawal from activities previously enjoyed, difficulty concentrating, and loss of motivation. In addition, sleep and appetite can be affected. When these symptoms become the norm rather than the exception over the course of two or more weeks, it is important to consider depression or SAD as a possible cause.  

Whether or not depression is to blame, there are a variety of activities that might restore some joy in your time together. 

  1. Remember that inactivity breeds inactivity, and an object in motion tends to stay in motion. In other words, the sedentary months of winter where kids gravitate toward screens or devices perpetuate the problem. How quickly minutes and hours pass when students are engaged with electronics! During your mentoring time, be sure to get those bodies moving for at least five minutes. A few laps around the room or skipping up and down a hallway can be FUN. Even more important, movement and exercise release healthy doses of “feel good” chemicals in the brain. No wonder most kids feel better after exercise! 
  2. If possible, spend some time outside. Even when the weather is frigid, there are outdoor activities that can elevate mood. Perhaps you can catch snowflakes together (check out this link), or watch boiling water freeze (check out this link). No matter the weather, the fresh air does a body good. 
  3. Engage in child-centered or creative, imaginary play. In order to do this, you will need to invite your mentee to pretend with you. I suspect that you remember pretend play as a child. Maybe you were the teacher while all of your stuffed animals were students. Or, you were an astronaut who made regular visits to Mars. Pretend play engages a part of the brain that is different than the ‘thinking brain’ required most often in school. Last week, I engaged in pretend play with a client who was pretend auditioning for American Idol. As we belted out various songs, we “judged” each other on performances. My sides ached from laughter! It was a welcome relief in the middle of a dreary afternoon.  

I suspect that you are wondering about the absence of worksheets or “homework” in my suggestions. My simple response is this. Your ‘homework’ or work time during the mentoring hour will be much more productive if you try one of these suggestions first. In addition, spending time on an activity, in the outdoors, or in an imaginary world will inevitably build the relational equity that you might need to persuade your student to do the homework during these winter doldrums. May you be richly blessed as you show up for your students! 

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