It’s that time of year when kids are creating their lists and checking them twice. Streets are filled with decorations, Christmas specials are on TV, and kids dream about snowy days and new video games. This “most wonderful” time of the year, however, also is a most distracting and stressful time of the year, especially if you are a student.

School does not slow down during the holidays; rather, it amps up. Final exams are taken, long-term projects are due, and essential last-minute tasks are assigned as the semester comes to an end. There also are holiday tournaments, family events and peer parties. Combine an increased workload along with many distracting activities, and kids can lose focus – and grades can suffer.

In general, most students struggle to balance school and extracurriculars. The holidays, however, provide additional opportunities for students to go astray. A key for students staying on task is to avoid being overwhelmed. With parental assistance, kids should set a schedule designating times to study and times to enjoy the festivities.

Teens end up wasting mental energy because they are not in the correct state of mind to attack their academic assignments. It can be difficult for teens to prioritize work and strike a better balance between schoolwork and holiday fun. Regular check-ins with mom or dad, especially during the holidays, can assist kids with making appropriate adjustments. During the holidays, unforeseen activities often distract students from their studies.

The proper ambiance also is particularly important during this season of distraction. The study area should be stocked with pens, pencils, paper and other essential aids such as healthy snacks and beverages. Sitting at a desk in a well-lit room also is more conducive to learning than lounging on a comfortable couch. Light background music can assist with focus, but upbeat holiday songs should be avoided until homework is complete.

Parents, too, can bolster academic productivity by joining the study-time fun. Sit at the desk alongside your student, and bring your work to the table. This not only models good habits but also provides a unique bond as families unite to do work before engaging in play. Additionally, your student will be less likely to text, Facebook or Skype with a parent in the room.

Finals are finished, school is over, and it is time to take a breather. An essential way to recharge and re-motivate is to enjoy the holidays and focus on the family. Shift away from the daily stresses of school and work to create a new family tradition. Get everyone together to bake holiday cookies, prepare a special breakfast or take a trip to the ice rink. Special times create lifelong memories that outlast the temporary enjoyment provided by expensive or trendy gifts. Yes, kids want presents, but they also want to be part of a family.

Life is always hectic. The holidays can, however, allow families to temporarily leave behind the daily grind and spend time focusing on one another. The food is great, the atmosphere is special, and relaxation is encouraged – it truly is the most wonderful time of the year. Happy holidays! 

Prior to going into private practice as a psychotherapist and learning-disabilities specialist, Russell Hyken, Ph.D., Ed.S., M.A., LPC, NCC, worked for more than 15 years as an English teacher, school counselor and school administrator. Visit him online at