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Paul Young's Young @ Heart

The Light in the
Principals Office

Youve all heard of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which is often triggered by the shorter days and longer nights of winter. But have you heard of BAD? Principal Paul Young offers his perspective and a few tips for managing kids who suffer from BAD.

For principals, particularly those of you who live and work in the northern reaches of the United States or in Canada, the expression "winter blues" has clear meaning. Winter's shortened days can affect our outlook and attitudes. When darkness sets in during the late afternoon hours, it can be accompanied by a sense of sadness or lethargy, even depression.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) identifies this mood condition as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Psychologists estimate that as many as 10 million Americans -- mostly adults, but also many children -- suffer from SAD. Those who are afflicted might notice that it is harder to get out of bed in the morning. They might also experience tiredness, weight gain, or a persistent sense of sadness. For some, SADs debilitating symptoms can even impact work and interpersonal relationships.

In schools, SAD may contribute to another condition more typically associated with children -- a behavioral affective disorder known as BAD. The APA's manual doesn't include BAD as a diagnosis for childhood behavioral disorders, but most principals can spot a handful of kids in their schools who suffer from BAD.


We all know that exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays can be harmful, but scientists also know that a lack of light can be just as harmful. Most children must experience a proper balance of light exposure for healthy physical and emotional growth. A lack of light can exacerbate a child's behavior issues.

Add cold weather to the shorter days of winter, and kids are bound to be spending less time outdoors in January and February than at other times of the year. Without the release valve that outdoor time can provide, any child might be prone to a little BADness.

Have you ever noticed that kids (and adults too) seem to be in better spirits and more productive on cold but sunny winter days than on gray, chilly winter days? Many teachers and principals see that. They also know that a bright, cheerful classroom is more conducive to learning than a drab, dreary classroom. During the winter months, many teachers open the window blinds to flood their classrooms with light because, as light therapists will tell you, light tends to brighten moods.


Some students seem to suffer from BAD even during the brightest spring or summer weather. That's because most children who act badly lack hope. They hurt. Their sense of worth has been diminished to the point that any attention they might receive, even negative attention, is a good thing.

Effective principals, however, know that BAD kids are just kids who are in need of a little light of another kind in their lives. Those students are starved for exposure to the light that radiates from a warm, caring adult. And we structure our schools so that all students can soak up plenty of that light.

We also know that the light in the principal's office must be among the brightest lights in the school. Effective principals radiate acceptance and hope for all their students. A principal's special look, a compliment, an act of kindness, or an expression of personal interest can be a powerful force in a troubled student's life as well as a model for other adults in the school.

We know that flashing an even brighter light during the dull winter months can help all children shine.

And we know that children are smart: they know when the light is fake, forced, cold, or excessive. But they soak up all they can when the light is genuine, glowing, and warm.

There might not be an abundance of scientific research on the benefits of a principal's light, but principals everyday, everywhere, prove that lighting the way for students is one of the best cures for BAD.

Article by Paul Young
Copyright © 2007 Education World®