The term stress has become so enrooted in our lives and societies that you would be hard-pressed to find a person who’s never heard of it. At the same time, even though it’s well-known, we still have a large number of people who manage stress unsuccessfully.
Theoretically speaking, stress is the body’s psychological and physical response to a situation we perceive as threatening. The situation doesn’t have to be realistically threatening, but are reaction is what makes it so.
In the same way as adults, children can find themselves in stressful situations and exhibit symptoms of stress. Given that school is one of the central parts of the child’s world and identity, it’s no wonder that it’s also often the source of stress for many children.
Sources of school stress in children are versatile and they can be viewed in several different categories:
According to research, the majority of children (two thirds) experience stress related to school on a daily basis. The most common stressor for children is the inability to keep up with school obligations.
Depending on the particular schools, obligations and tasks can be highly demanding. On the other hand, children who rely on parents for homework and studying have a tendency to have higher stress levels once they go on to high school.
Children and adults show similar symptoms of stress reactions. They can be:
Unlike adults, children not only exhibit psychological and physiological symptoms of stress, but it actually has an impact on their development and the ability to manage stress later in life.
So, this is what you can do to help your little one tackle the challenges of school stress better:
When it comes to tackling your child’s stressful response to school, your first line of action should be a conversation. Many children tend to isolate and are unlikely to approach their parents on their own. That’s why you should be the one to take the first step and hear about what’s bothering your child.
In the previous point, we accentuated the importance of conversation, but it should be structured in a different way than a standard parent-child “lesson”. When you’re discussing what your child is feeling, you should avoid giving advice and explaining to your child how they should feel.
The best support is parents who actively listen and actually hear their child. This way, the child has the feeling like they can talk to them and approach them for finding solutions.
Storytelling is a very powerful tool that can also be helpful in allowing you to tackle your child’s school stress. The conversation can be structured as examples from your own life, either by connecting their situation to their work or by remembering a situation from your own school days if you want to be more relatable.
This kind of conversation shows children that it’s normal to make mistakes and to feel negative emotions. Even though negative emotions are normal, it’s important to find strategies to face stress.
It’s always advisable that parents remain positive, cheerful and open and help the children perceive the situation from a different angle.
You should avoid reactions such as “Don’t be angry/sad/scared”. They are not helpful in these situations because they ‘forbid’ the child from feeling negative emotions. Let your child know that it’s okay to be angry, scared, lonely or nervous and let them talk about their feelings.
Different types of activities that involve physical exercise contribute to reduced stress in children. As a parent, you can easily introduce physical activity in your child’s daily routine.
“We usually associate physical exercise with sports, but with children, physical activity can happen in many normal, daily scenarios. A simple visit to the park and an hour or two of playtime can do wonders for their stress levels. If your child is older, a great idea is to take them to a swimming pool”, says Melanie Frankes, a children’s writer at IsAccurate.
However, you should focus on non-competitive activities that don’t trigger stress from comparison to other children. These activities should also be predictable space and time-wise and take place in an environment that the child knows well.
Unfortunately, schedules of many children are getting more packed with school, activities and sports that it doesn’t leave a lot of time for the child’s personal interests and hobbies. At the same time, hobbies are one of the main and healthiest coping mechanisms a person can have to manage stress, whether it’s a child or an adult.
Take a little time to look at your child’s schedule and determine when they would have more time to partake in their favorite activities. For example, if your children like drawing and painting, surprise them one day by giving them a day off from their chores and allow them to paint for a while.
Suffering from school stress can be scary for children, but for parents too. It’s definitely not easy to see your child go through hardships and issues that seem so silly from an adult perspective. However, they are definitely not silly and irrelevant in the context of their life and environment.
Luckily, as a parent, there is a lot that you can do to help your child manage stress caused by school tasks, obligations, and situations. It’s all based on conversation and active listening – if you don’t have the habit of having “serious talks” with your child, you should definitely start doing so if you start seeing signs of stress in your little one.
About the Author: Kristin Savage nourishes, sparks and empowers using the magic of a word. Along with pursuing her degree in Creative Writing, Kristin was gaining experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in marketing strategy for publishers and authors. Now Kristin runs her own FlyWriting blog.