Children spend a majority of their waking hours in the classroom, and it is inevitable that they will experience school-related stress at some point in their education. During the teenage years, as academic rigor increases and the college application process looms large, stress can mount, potentially manifesting itself in unhealthy ways. Here are a few tips for managing school-related stress:
Encourage healthy habits
A healthy mind begins with a healthy body. “Parents can help their children manage school related stress first and foremost by being sure that their children are getting adequate rest and are maintaining healthy diets,” said Cincinnati Parent contributor and long-time teacher Deb Krupowicz. “When the demands of physical health are not maintained, the effects of stress from school are multiplied. Teens who feel well can manage stress better.”
Model healthy behavior
Parents should start by taking a look at their own reactions to stress. “The most important thing we, as parents, can do is model the behavior we want our children to emulate,” says Angela Brothers, a student life and leadership coordinator. “If your children are with you when a stressor arises, talk through your thoughts with them. Let them see how you recognize the stressor, problem solve through it, and come out on the other side.”
Work on organizational strategies
Help your child create routines and strategies to keep pace with growing demands. Brothers offers the following suggestions to her middle school students:
- Have a quiet, distraction-free study space at home with all the materials your child will need for homework.
- Help your child use a binder, trapper keeper or accordion-style folder that organizes homework, graded papers and study material, and have her “clean house” once a month to be sure she is not holding on to materials she no longer needs.
- Have a family calendar with extra-curricular and family commitments posted some place visible in your house.
- Help your child prioritize her work. Ask questions like: How long will each assignment take? When are these assignments due? Do you prefer to get the ones that seem easier or less time consuming out of the way or do you prefer to do the “harder” ones first?
Help your child develop coping skills
It is essential that children find healthy ways to manage stress and parents can help their children discover what works best for them. “Coping skills are key but are different for everyone,” says Libby Pollak, a licensed social worker. “For some kids, mindfulness, meditation or breathing exercises work. For others, those things only stress them out more and they need physical activity or exercise. Other kids journal. Some listen to music. Some take a walk; some spend time with animals. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to coping skills.”
Set realistic expectations
In a culture that is increasingly focused on getting the best grades in order to get into the best schools, it is important to remember that each child is unique and the path that works for one child, may not be right for another. “One of the first things that parents can do is to help their children identify their strengths and set realistic expectations and goals based on those,” Pollak says.
Know when to seek outside help
Stress is a normal and necessary part of life. The key is finding healthy ways to manage stress so that it does not lead to other issues, like depression. Familiarize yourself with the signs of depression (www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/teen-depression). If a number of these signs persist, parents should discuss their concerns with a pediatrician or mental health professional.
“Inevitably, kids are going to experience school-related stress, some more than others,” Pollak says. “For some, the source of the stress is external and for others, the source is internal. In either case, parents can encourage and promote positive stress management.”