Christine Willing, M.Ed., NCSP,
How to help my child stress less about school
Highlights from this blog
· Talk to your child about what is causing their stress and listen honestly and openly.
· Model effective stress management strategies like eating healthy and exercising.
· Clarify your expectations and teach your child to focus on the effort, not the outcome.
Take it from a former school psychologist: school can be a stressful place. Kids are under immense pressure to do well in class and fit in with their peers. And the pandemic has only made things worse.
In the United States, a national WebMD survey found that parents rate school and friends as the biggest stressors for kids. Additionally, a whopping 62% of children had physical symptoms linked to those stressors.
That’s not great news. But it’s also no reason to give up. There are several strategies you can implement right now to reduce your child’s school-related stress. And in this post, I’m going to walk you through the four techniques I’ve seen the most success with in my therapy practice.
Talk to your child about school and stress
It can be hard to talk about stress. Even as adults, we tend to hide it from our colleagues, friends, and families.
Talking about stress is even harder for children because they can’t always express the emotions they’re feeling. That means stress can come out as irritability, difficulty concentrating, or excessive worrying about school or grades.
If you’re noticing any of those signs, it's time to sit down and talk with your child.
Ask them what aspects of school are causing stress for them. Is it academic? Is it social? Make sure to listen closely to what they are saying and resist the urge to argue or respond emotionally while they are speaking.
Just talking about stress can provide relief. And finding out the source of your child’s stress can open the door for more direct solutions like therapy or tutoring.
Model effective stress management skills
I know you’ve got a lot going on right now. And if you’re like most Americans, you’re probably a bit stressed yourself.
But it’s important to remember that as adults, we have learned more productive ways to cope with stress than our children have. So if we want to reduce our child’s stress, we have to show them how we manage our own.
Here are a few of the most effective stress-management behaviors you can model for your child:
· Regular exercise
· Deep breathing
· Eating healthy
· Sleeping well
You may think dealing with your own stress isn’t going to affect your child. But your behavior has a direct impact on how they react to stress in their own lives.
Remember, parenting is 30% what you say and 70% what you do.
Clarify your expectations around school performance
Every week, I talk to young patients who are worried about grades, colleges, and careers…and most of them aren't even 13 yet!
That’s not a healthy place to be.
I know that college and the workplace are more competitive than ever, but watching our kids burn out before they graduate high school isn’t going to do them any favors. In fact, it will likely hurt their academic performance.
Instead, encourage your child to focus on their effort rather than the outcome. Make sure they understand that if they try their best, without overdoing it, that is all that matters. Let them know that learning isn’t just about getting a good score, it’s about working hard, growing, and the joy of discovering something new.
Consider additional support
If your child’s stress isn’t improving using the strategies above, you may want to take advantage of the many resources available to you.
Consider requesting a 504 plan from your child’s school or look into tutoring, executive functioning coaching, or even therapy.
If you are debating what supports may be most helpful, Think Happy Live Healthy offers a one-hour parent consultation to discuss different levels of support. See more here.
Instill lifelong stress management skills
With all that’s been happening lately, I think we can all understand why kids feel so stressed out in school. But by talking about stress, modeling good stress management techniques, clarifying expectations, and seeking out additional support, your kids can learn to manage it and cope effectively. Best of all, these skills won't just help them now, but will help them deal with stress for years to come.
If you’ve found ways to help your child manage stress that I didn’t cover here, please let our readers know in the comment below.
If you’re seeking treatment for your child’s school-related stress, get int touch to request an appointment.
Christine Willing, M.Ed., NCSP, is the CEO & founder of Think Happy Live Healthy, a psychological therapy and wellness company in northern Virginia. As a Licensed School Psychologist, she helps kids and families navigate the stress of school with resiliency and positivity. When she’s not seeing patients, Christine enjoys life at the beach, listening to podcasts, and walking her adorable dog, Latte. Follow her on Instagram at thinkhappylivehealthy.