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Spring Fever and Associated Defiant Behavior

Moms and dads are often shocked that defiant behaviors can rise during and after spring break week. Even though the break has its value, there is also a sense of grief at its ending. So, don't be surprised if your child has a hard time getting his or her academic motors started again.

Defiant behavior often comes in waves. If spring has brought on a bad case of "bad" behavior in your youngster, here are some possible explanations – and what to do about them:

1. Your youngster may not have the body awareness or language skills necessary to explain to you about the tingle in his nose or the pressure in his sinuses, but the light-headedness and "spacey" feeling that often accompanies allergies may leave your child feeling distracted and disoriented. If itchy eyes, sniffles or headaches accompany the onset of defiant behavior in your home, check with your doctor about the possibility of an allergy diagnosis.

2. As your child’s spring fever continues to build, celebrate accomplishments more often and make privileges easier to earn. Provide more rewards more often. Emphasize earning rewards by staying afloat academically. However, don't make the reward staying up late or anything that would work against your youngster in school.

3. Help your child transition from spring break back to schoolwork. One way to guide her to accept the necessity of schoolwork in springtime is to help in finding a sense of closure at the end of spring break. This can include gearing-up for the coming school tasks, setting up reward systems, and promising to make summer plans after your youngster is back in the routine of school and homework.

4. The wild swings in weather that often come with the onset of spring can represent a disruption of routine for a child who is sensitive to change. Changes in climate can bring changes of air-pressure that can leave him feeling out of sorts for no good reason, too. Long days of rain and the lack of outdoor play it brings can make your child restless, and staring out a classroom window at a beautiful sunny day can make it difficult to focus on schoolwork. Thus, try to keep routines as consistent as possible, and have a supply of fun rainy-day activities on hand.

5. Changing from one set of clothes to another can be a challenge to a child with tactile sensitivity (e.g., getting used to different fabrics and styles, having more skin exposed, dealing with stiff new tags, mourning the loss of favorite yet outgrown outfits, etc.). Make sure to keep her sensory-related clothing preferences in mind when buying new things for the new season, and do whatever customizing is needed (e.g., cutting out tags, washing jeans several times to make them softer, etc.).

6. When there are only a couple months of school left to go before summer vacation, your child may be making major developmental leaps. He may be speaking more, processing more, moving more, sensing more, etc. When your child jumps to a new developmental level, everything has to come apart and get put back together again in a stronger and more advanced form. The “falling-apart” episode can be difficult for everyone, but wait: things will be much better when the growth spurt is over. In the meantime, be aware that “growth spurts” can be a profoundly disorganizing process for a child. Kids with sensory integration and motor planning problems may find the difference in length of limbs and distance to the floor confusing and frustrating, and may have to completely revise their already blurry body awareness. An attitude of "giving up," anger, clumsiness, regression of motor skills, and tears for no reason can all be signs that your youngster is coping with a growth spurt poorly. Explaining the dilemma can help, and extra support and lowered expectations will be called for.

7. Fear of change is foremost in a child’s mind as she wonders if she will be able to survive the milestone of the next grade, anxiety about summer, and fearing how it may be next year in school. So be patient with your child during these difficult transitional periods. “Bad” behavior may simply be her coping mechanism for the moment.

8. Separation anxiety is another reason for defiance as your child anticipates the loss of daily classmates, familiar routines, and teachers with whom he has reached an understanding. A common reaction to this is frustration and anger, because then it isn't necessary to grieve the loss of the familiar, and the pain associated with grief (i.e., sadness) can be avoided.

9. Your child is not the only one reacting to “springtime stressors.” YOU are too. If you are agonizing over the way your spring clothes fit, feeling the changes in weather, getting caught up in vacation plans, going crazy with closet changes, suffering from allergies, and worrying about what to do with your youngster over the impending summer vacation – all of these things may raise your stress-level and lower your levels of patience, understanding, and time to spend with your child. Your youngster is likely to react to that very poorly. Stop and take a look at whether your stress is becoming contagious. Then shift gears and start to smell the roses. Help your youngster smell them also.

10. School vacations can lead to stress due to changes in routine and large blocks of unstructured time. Traveling during these vacations brings with it a whole additional level of routine-disruption and stress. Try to keep things as normal and planned as possible during spring break, and give your youngster plenty of preparation for new and interesting activities or places. Deliver maximum support, but have minimum expectations during these potentially difficult times.

When parents understand that most of the defiance associated with spring fever is physiological rather than behavioral, it will be easier to be prepared. Start by using some of the suggestions above.

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