Supporting behaviour before a school holiday

Published On: 3 May 2024

The end of term is usually characterised by feelings of excitement, anticipation and – to a certain degree for some – relief. After weeks of hard work, students, teachers, support staff, and leaders can begin to look forward to a well-earned rest, and the chance to say goodbye to academic pursuits, at least for a while.

However, despite all the excitement, there can sometimes be an increase in behaviour incidents leading up to the holiday period, and some students can struggle to regulate themselves during those final weeks and days in school. The question is: why?

Why behaviour incidents can sometimes increase in number or frequency before school holidays

As the end of term approaches, daily life in the classroom often changes: well-established routines can drop off as students complete topics, wrap up coursework and, depending on their age and stage, sit statutory exams.

A lack of structure can affect behaviour

This can result in alterations to the usual timetable, leaving some children and young people feeling uncertain and anxious. While there are often end-of-term celebrations and activities to experience and enjoy, for some students, a lack of structure and routine can cause them to feel dysregulated, to the point where they may engage in behaviours that need our support.

Tiredness as a factor that drives behaviour

Sometimes, behaviour can be exacerbated by tiredness and, after a long, busy term, both students and staff members are exhausted, emotionally, cognitively, and physically. This can lead to an increase in behaviour incidents, as everyone across the school community grapples with exhaustion.

Different environments and routines can be unsettling

To relax, recuperate and reset, some families plan holidays away from home, giving children and young people the opportunity to travel to new and exciting places. While this is invariably a positive thing, the anticipation of impending trips away can affect behaviour in the preceding weeks and days. Whether a student is excited or anxious at the prospect of leaving their familiar environment, it can often leave them feeling unsettled and dysregulated.

And for those students who may not be going away, but for whom school provides a sense of stability and consistency, any break from their daily routine can be daunting.

My Family Coach has a wealth of resources to help families navigate school holidays together.

So how can we support students at the end of term?

It would seem, then, that the build-up to school holidays can sometimes present us with a number of challenges around behaviour support. With so many variables at play, we need to continually assess the landscape, and consider what steps we can take, as leaders, teachers, and support staff, to help our students successfully navigate this time of year.

By tuning into individuals’ needs, and providing timely, appropriate support, we can ensure that end of term arrangements go smoothly, and that the likelihood of any behaviour incidents is kept to a minimum.

Of course, every setting is different, and what works for one school or individual may not work for another. However, by assembling a toolkit of strategies, we can adapt ideas for our context, and offer the best support to the children and young people in our care.

1: Consider how we frame holidays

It’s easy to assume that holidays are always a positive time of year; something to look forward to and relish. Naturally, we may default to talking about them in a way that reflects our own beliefs and demonstrates how much we are looking forward to a break.

However, we need to be aware that this perspective can be counterproductive for some of our students and may inadvertently raise their levels of stress and anxiety. By knowing our children and young people well, we can be more deliberate around the way we talk about holidays with individuals, showing sensitivity to how they may be feeling.

2: Anticipate changes to routine

For some students, any change to routine can be deeply unsettling, and drive them to engage in behaviour that needs more support. With these individuals, it can be helpful to equip them with a range of tools to anticipate changes, and, as a result, prepare themselves well in advance.

Creating social stories and using aids such as visual timetables or ‘now and next’ boards can help to alleviate feelings of distress, and support individuals to understand what is happening. They then have the opportunity to ask questions, process upcoming events, and gain reassurance from us.

3: Be flexible and responsive to need

Invariably, the structure of the school day may alter towards the end of term, something which many students can struggle with. It’s important to try and strike a balance between keeping things consistent, and responding to ever-changing timetables and demands.

Where possible, it can be useful to maintain regular daily routines, such as breaktime, lunchtime, and how we start and end the day. That way, even if other areas of the timetable change, or special events appear in the calendar, students can rely on the main structure of the day remaining the same.

That said, it may be the case that, sometimes, children and young people would benefit from longer periods outside at breaktimes or may need more time to settle down before going home, for example. By gauging the ‘temperature’ in the classroom, we can make sensible, informed decisions about when and how to adapt our approach, to ensure a positive outcome.

4: Share information with colleagues

Some children and young people navigate the start and end of term without any issues, whereas others may always find it difficult to adapt. By tapping into information provided by previous teachers, and taking a personalised approach to support, we can ensure that we have the appropriate measures in place to mitigate the likelihood of behaviour incidents.

This type of pre-emptive approach allows us to identify students who may benefit from extra support towards the end of term, and step in before situations have the chance to escalate.

Change can be challenging

The end of term is, by its very nature, a period of change, and students, just like all of us, can find change difficult to cope with.

It is, therefore, our responsibility to proactively look for ways to mitigate any feelings of anxiety and distress that are related to school holidays. That way, we can support our children and young people to navigate the end of term calmly, happily, and confidently.

If you’d like to talk to us about your needs when it comes to supporting behaviour in your setting, please get in touch any time.