By Alicia Windon, psychologist at Youthrive
It’s nearly that time of the year where the final school term is nearing an end but with it comes the stress of kids completing assignments and tests. The younger children can also often feel anxious about what classes they’ll get the following year and for teenagers it’s about embarking on a new journey outside of school. The end of the year is also a time where parents and care givers are trying to budget for Christmas which can cause some stress in the household. However there are some simple steps you can take to help your child finish the year on a positive note.
What is childhood stress?
Stress is a function of the demands placed on us and our ability to meet them. These demands often come from outside sources, such as family, jobs, friends, or school. But it also can come from within, often related to what we think we should be doing versus what we’re actually able to do.
So stress can affect anyone, who feels overwhelmed, even kids. From babies and toddlers to older children. As kids get older, academic and social pressures (especially from trying to fit in) can create stress.
What are common signs of stress in children?
While it’s not always easy to recognise when children are stressed, short-term behavioural changes — such as mood swings, acting out, changes in sleep patterns, or bedwetting — can be indications. Some children have physical effects, including stomach aches and headaches. Others have trouble concentrating or completing schoolwork. Still others become withdrawn or spend a lot of time alone.
Younger children may pick up new habits like thumb sucking, hair twirling, or nose picking; adolescents may begin to lie, bully, or defy authority. A child who is stressed may also overreact to minor problems, have nightmares, become clingy, or have drastic changes in academic performance.
What are common causes for school related stress?
Reasons children may experience school related stress may be attributed to academic pressures.This can be through pressure placed on them by family or through their own high expectations of achievement. This is usually most common around end of year or examination periods. Other common stressors can be socially related, such as pressure to fit in to a particular group in school (physical appearance, having material goods), managing bullying or friendship conflicts.
What are some steps parents can take to reduce stress on their children?
- Look for signs of school-related stress
Keep an eye out for signs that your child is overwhelmed by stress at school, especially if they have a lot of upcoming tests or assignments.
- Identify causes of school stress
If your child seems stressed and frustrated, sit down with them and figure out what is causing the stress. Once you know the main cause of stress, you can start working toward solving the issue.
- Avoid over-scheduling
Having a structured schedule can help keep students focused and on track, but taking on too much can become a source of stress and anxiety. Between time spent in class, completing homework, and extracurricular activities, schedule free time for your child to do what they want. This downtime gives them a chance to relax, de-stress, and recharge.
- Make time for family and friends
Spend with friends and family. This can be as simple as having family mealtime together every night. This can also be an opportunity to ask your child how school is going and listen to any issues they may be having.
- Follow a bedtime routine
Making sure your child is getting enough sleep is always important, and this is especially true if they are feeling stressed. he or she is feeling stressed. Following a bedtime routine can help by providing time to wind down and relax. Aim for your child to get between 8 and 10 hours of sleep each night.
- Reframe negative thoughts
Negative thoughts can have a big impact on a child’s stress levels, and can create a cycle of stress and negativity that is hard to break. Instead of thinking about how stressful a project or assignment is, help your child think about how they can make the situation less stressful. This might include breaking a task into smaller chunks or creating a schedule.
- Set achievable goals
Setting expectations that are too high can quickly lead to extra stress for students. Setting smaller, realistic goals can help your child achieve more, reduce stress, and boost academic performance.
- Stay organised
Disorganisation can be another major factor of increased school stress. Help your child create a system to keep their work, assignments, and materials organised. Students who are more organized tend to do better in school and experience less stress.
- Talk to the teacher or school counsellor
If your child is still feeling high levels of stress, make an appointment to talk to his or her teacher or school counsellor. This is an easy way to get more information about how your child performs and behaves in class. The school will be able to help you and your child identify what is causing stress and create a plan of action to tackle those issues together.