Young girl bored in class
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The Mid-School-Year Slump Is Real; Here’s How to Help Your Kids Beat It

The kids might be in a rut, but Dad can help

Where I live in Central Texas, we have a thing called Cedar Fever. It's the allergies that newcomers to the area eventually, almost inevitably, develop because of the disgusting spores released by cedar trees.

The symptoms of Cedar Fever, which usually hits around late December and January, include itchy eyes, congestion, headaches, sneezing and, notably, fatigue. You feel like crap and you really don't want to do anything but lie down and rub your eyes. It's miserable.

Cedar Fever is a lot like what happens in families all over the country around this time—just without the allergies and spores. Once the excitement of the December holidays is over and right as the New Year is settled into, parents go back to work and kids return to school. It's like running through molasses. (It's even worse if you live in a Cedar Fever area; all the lethargy plus a constant runny nose.)

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I call it the mid-year slump, the "mid" referring to the school year through which my kids are slogging. Gone is the anxiety and excitement about starting a new school year with new classes and teachers. And the May end of the school year seems so far away. Homework feels repetitive. Classes are getting boring. Everyone is restless.

My kids are in high school and middle school; we should be used to it by now, but every January it seems to take us by surprise. Grades dip a bit, it's harder to get the kids out of bed in the morning, things start to fall apart in the morning routine and at school as everyone's mind is already going toward Spring Break in March.

I have a few bits of advice, things that have worked to get us over the huge hump of the January mid-year slump:

You don't have to be Mr. Sunny Side Up every day, but you may not realize how much negativity you're putting into their heads when you treat the morning routine like a massive chore.

Lead by example (even if you have to fake it): You may think your kids are independent thinkers, and they are, but they also strongly model their behavior on the adults in their lives. That includes you. If you complain and grunt all morning about how early it is and how much you'd rather not go to work, they will imitate that behavior in their own way.

You don't have to be Mr. Sunny Side Up every day, but you may not realize how much negativity you're putting into their heads when you treat the morning routine like a massive chore. You don't have to change your personality (they'll see right through that), but keep the complaints to yourself and try to focus on what exciting things the day might have in store.

Break the routine: Part of the reason the mid-year slump feels like a slog is the repetition. If the kids have been in school for four or five months, they will be attuned to how things seem the same, over and over again. No wonder they're bored. Take a detour on the way to school or make an unexpected ice cream stop afterward. Get up a little earlier than usual and serve up some pancakes. Schedule an afterschool play session that they can look forward to.

Your role as a parent is to get your kids through this time. But you don't have to do it the same way every day.

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Set milestones: Sometimes the best way to get through a blah period is to have something to look forward to. Schedule events for Friday evenings or the weekend that will help get your children through a rough week. It doesn't have to be anything expensive; a children's museum or just a trip to the park that you've put on the calendar is something they can think about throughout the week.

Make a note of when report cards come out or when they have awards assemblies at school and make goalposts to work toward. Make plans for days off from school and holidays—including MLK Day and Valentine's Day—with your kids.

Be motivational: More than pancakes or tickets to events and money, what your kids need most from you is motivation and encouragement. Pack a surprise in their lunchbox. Even a tiny note that says, "You can do this, I love you!" will brighten their day.

Tell them you know school is not always easy, but you are always here to support them, to love them, and to make sure they have what they need to succeed.

If none of that works, have a sit-down conversation. Ask them what frustrates them, what scares them. Talk it through.

The currency you have in abundant supply for your kids is your attention. Pay it to them. Make them feel like you've got their back, whether they're dealing with the mid-year school slump, Cedar Fever, or (lord help you) both at the same time.