Published January 19, 2014
Between schoolwork, homework, standardized tests and test anxiety, after-school activities and bullying, kids are super stressed out. In fact, more than a third of parents said their kids were under a ton of school stress, according to a recent NPR poll.
Here, find out how you can tell if your kid is stressed at school and what you can do about it.
Is your kid stressed out?
Kids who are under stress will have changes in mood or behavior, according to Dr. Adelle Cadieux, a pediatric psychologist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Your kid will likely be irritable, cry more, withdraw from activities, express uncertainty, or have negative self-talk. He or she might complain about headaches and stomachaches or have changes in sleep and appetite. Kids under stress also have problems getting ready for school and may even refuse to go.
If your child is dealing with school stress, here are 10 ways you can help him or her cope.
1. Stop the chaos
“A rushed child is never a calm child,” said Lori Lite, author of Stress Free Kids: A Parent's Guide to Helping Build Self-Esteem, Manage Stress, and Reduce Anxiety in Children. Chaotic mornings also set the tone for the day so leave enough time and make sure everything they need is ready to go.
2. Get more sleep
Kids who get enough sleep are likely to be less irritable and better able to handle school stress.
If you suspect your kid is stressed or is being bullied, open the lines of communication by asking about his or her day and challenges. Especially for older kids who don’t want to be told what to do, you can help them figure out a solution to their problems on their own.
4. Practice relaxation
Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and positive thinking are proven ways to reduce stress that also work for kids. Written daily affirmations that your kid can pull from a bowl each morning can help too, Lite said.
5. Cut down on extras
“As a nation, we’ve come to believe that busy equals happy,” Lite said. She added that keeping busy is an unhealthy way to cope with life’s challenges, and the philosophy has been transferred to our kids. Too many after-school activities means less time for homework, so eliminate some and use dinner time to de-stress and bond as a family.
Talk to school staff and other parents about their observations of your child so you can keep track of how he or she is handling school, Cadieux said.
7. Model coping strategies
If you can’t handle your stress, your kid will never learn to either, Cadieux said. So the next time you have a tough day at work, it’s ok to tell your kids why you were upset – but say something that puts the situation in perspective.
8. Don’t criticize
Even if you disagree, never talk negatively about homework or teachers in front of your child because it creates fear. “They’re already feeling stress so you need to be the calming force,” Lite said. Always be positive and schedule a parent-teacher conference instead.
9. Limit technology
Kids spend more than seven hours a day using technology that might increase stress. So put limits on your kid’s tech time and spend more time being active as a family.
10. Get help
If school stress is affecting your child’s ability to function, it’s important to talk to a counselor who can help your child cope.