Like the work environment, school is another place where stress abounds. How can one cope with stress at school?
Coping with School Stress
These 5 tips can help kids cope with school stress and homework pressure — and ease school anxiety for kids of all ages.
When it comes to school stress, Hannah O’Brien has seen some extremes.
The 17-year-old junior at Acalanes High School in Lafayette, California, has witnessed students crying in class after getting low test scores, she says, while others have gone without sleep a few nights in a row to keep up with homework.
“I personally have seen so many of my closest friends absolutely break — emotionally, physically, mentally — under stress, and I knew a lot of it was coming from school work,” she says.
School stress is serious business. A 2007 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report suggests that for children and teens, too much work and too little play could backfire down the road. “Colleges are seeing a generation of students who appear to be manifesting increased signs of depression, anxiety, perfectionism and stress,” the report says.
Young Kids Feel School Stress, Too
A great deal of the pressure and anxiety about school stems from the college admissions race, O’Brien says.
“Students are being really pushed to make great academic gains, with No Child Left Behind,” says Jim Bierma, a middle-school counselor in St. Paul, Minnesota. “A lot of students are stressed out about college already – in junior high.”
But younger kids feel pressured, too. Even among her elementary students in Harrisburg, Arkansas, school counselor Joy Holt sees academic stress. Young kids are terrified of failing the standardized tests now emphasized heavily during the school year, she says.
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Stress, normally, is more pronounced during high school.
How to Cope with the Stress of High School
“Remember that awful feeling that last day of summer vacation before the first day of school?” His question was like a fart at a funeral and roused me from my previously relaxed summer drowse.
A long slumbering dragon in the cave of my gut, released a combination of indigestion and a feeling that can I only describe with the word “blech.” Only in all caps and much longer.
The end of lazy hot long days and the beginning of what seemed like just like long days… trapped in a windowless classroom. Raging hormones, existential yearnings, barely restrained frustration coupled with the desire for social acceptance, irrepressible urge to rebel against perceived authority figures, bizarre body changes, extreme sensitivity, heightened need for sleep, rapidly increasing brain cells…alongside the expectation to maintain high levels of focus for about 7 hours a day on material mostly seeming irrelevant to actual life. No wonder high school seemed like a kind of a hell for superheroes.
As a teen, I had the chance to go to three different high schools in the space of a year. So here’s a bit about what I learned that helped get me through it:
I knew that I had to get my education, so opting out of high school was not an option. (Homeschooling was not really a possibility when I was in high school.) So instead I pushed through and tried to take a broader perspective. I made friends with writers and directors. Great books and films took me out of my immediate environment and opened up entire worlds.
If school seems tough, remember that there is a world beyond the locker rooms and classrooms. The library is still a great place to connect to great works of cinema and literature that can help you feel greater connection to diverse cultures and perspectives outside of your own.
When you are feeling alone or like you don’t know where you belong, joining a school club can be a helpful way to feel like you’ve got some people you can relate to. It can be tough, especially if the idea of talking to other peers is terrifying. But it’s well worth the effort.
Whether it’s Chess, Drama, Writing, Language Arts, or any other kind of club offered by your school or community center, having some kind of safe social connection group can be hugely beneficial. You probably know that already, but I will just repeat it.
As hard as it is might be to imagine, high school is not forever. After high school you may go to work, join the military, go off to university, travel, volunteer… whatever you decide to do. And “decide” is the key word. As you enter young adulthood, you have more opportunity to assert your own identity and preferences.
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Here are seven tips to help your child manage school stress.
7 Tips for Helping Your Child Manage Stress
Like adults, kids also struggle with stress. Too many commitments, conflict in their families and problems with peers are all stressors that overwhelm children.
Of course, “a certain amount of stress is normal,” said Lynn Lyons, LICSW, a psychotherapist who specializes in treating anxious families and co-author of the book Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents: 7 Ways to Stop the Worry Cycle and Raise Courageous and Independent Children with anxiety expert Reid Wilson, Ph.D. It’s normal to feel stressed about starting middle school or taking a big test, she said.
The key to helping kids manage stress is teaching them to problem-solve, plan and know when to say yes and no to activities and commitments, she said. It isn’t to “make everything smooth and comfortable.”
“If you don’t teach [your kids] how to manage stress, they will self-medicate with food, drugs and alcohol.” In other words, kids will reach for something to make them feel better right away, and usually it won’t be something healthy, she said.
Here’s how you can help your kids manage stress successfully.
1. Stop overscheduling.
One of the biggest stressors for kids is being overscheduled, Lyons said. And yet, today, kids are expected to pay attention and perform in school for seven hours, excel at extracurricular activities, come home, finish homework, and go to bed just to do it all over again the next day. As Lyons said, “Where’s the downtime?”
Kids need downtime to rejuvenate. Their brains and bodies need to rest. And they might not realize this by themselves. So knowing when your child is overscheduled is important.
Lyons suggested looking at your kids’ schedules over the course of a week and making sure that there’s enough downtime — “when you’re not watching the clock.” Are there several hours on the weekend or a few nights during the week when your child can simply kick back and relax?
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