If you’re a parent, you full well know that the school system has changed since you last had to go to homeroom. What once was a place of peer socialization and inquisitive curiosity, has now morphed into priorities of test scores, GPA’s, and college acceptance letters. High levels of perfectionism and over-achieving are leading to even higher levels of anxiety and depression among high school and college students. But it isn’t just older teens that are feeling the pressure of academic success. Due to standardized tests, increasing amounts of homework, and a complete rework of curriculum, kids as young as first grade are showing symptoms of school stress. With the framework of No Child Left Behind, we want to help you help your kids cope with school stress.
Watch for the Signs of School Stress
You can’t help your child if you have no idea that they need it. Do your best to keep an eye out for any stress signals. Listen for clues in any casual or off-the-cuff comments. Take note of their mood and physical state. Do they complain of many headaches or stomachaches? Are they reluctant to go to school altogether? Observe the clothing they wear – especially any sudden changes. Is your normally “put together” kid now opting for sweatpants and hoodies every day? Are they wearing long sleeves on extremely hot days? While simple, in theory, changes like this could be a means of hiding self-destructive coping mechanisms like self-harm and eating disorders.
Take a Reflective Moment – Are They Over Scheduled
Yes, it’s important to be involved in a number of different things so that our kids can be well rounded and adaptive in life. But especially as a kid or teen, there is such thing as being over-involved. How many clubs does your child participate in? How many sports or other activities do they do? What about honors, AP, and other college credit classes? How much homework are they doing a night?
It’s sometimes hard to forget that at the end of the day, kids are still kids. If you’re noticing that your child is having a hard time keeping up, it might be time to cut back. Remove an activity and replace it with downtime. Remember that sleep is crucial to all kids as they are still developing and growing. And that just like you, they need time to recharge at the end of the day in order to be fully equipped to do what’s asked of them the next day.
Work on Time-Management
With all that said, there is something to be said for learning time management skills at an early age. This is a skill that will help your kids’ way beyond their schooling years. Learning how to organize and manage time and schedules is a great way to combat stress. When projects are assigned, break it down into smaller goals so that they can be working on small pieces every day instead of waiting until the last minute to complete the entire paper or presentation. Utilize a planner to keep track of all their school and extra-curricular responsibilities. Encourage them to do their schoolwork in a quiet, distraction-free space. Engage with their teachers and inquire about other resources if your child is struggling in a specific class.
Carve Out Time for Self-Care
As we’ve said before, the key to stress management is wellness balancing. We believe that health is a cycle, a cycle fueled by the choices they make on a daily basis. Positive mental health is increased when a person is taking care of themselves on a physical and emotional level.
If your kids don’t partake in sports or other physical activities, they need to be engaging in exercise and healthy sleep patterns. Give them space and time to recharge at the end of each day. Encourage habits like journaling, yoga, or creating art as a safe space to reflect on self-awareness and growth. Use mealtimes as a means of connecting with your kids. Not only is this a way to focus on proper nutrition and getting in more fruits and vegetables but can also help feed their soul by giving them a pressure-free and judgment-free space to listen and communicate.
Check Your Own Parental Pressure Gauge
How much of your child’s school stress is stemming from your own parental pressures on them? How do your words and actions define “success” within your household? What are the topics you talk to them about most? Do you focus on their grades and test scores? Or perhaps how they’re doing in their sport or club? Try shifting your thinking and communication methods. Instead of asking specifics about grades or positions, ask them things like “What’s something good that happened today?” or “What is something new that you learned?”. This shows your child that how they’re doing academically or on the team isn’t as important as how they are doing overall in their lives.
Coping with School Stress at CPA
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that your kids are still kids. They’re going to have enough stressors as an adult. So do your best to keep their child and teen-hood as fun as possible. Let us help you be the best parent you can be. Cristina Panaccione and Associates has two locations in the South Hills and one office in Robinson Township. We are currently accepting a limited number of new patients, so check out our videos to learn more about how we can help you learn the skills you need to cope with the punches life throws at you!
* This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please contact a medical professional for advice.
Danielle Schwartz – MA
Danielle graduated from Chatham University in 2019 with a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology. While at Chatham, she completed a three-semester internship at a dual diagnosis clinic that treated co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders. Having the opportunity to work with people from a broad spectrum of backgrounds and identities is something she is passionate about and feels honored to do. She views a person as a whole self rather than a diagnosis – we are more than our labels or symptoms characterize us as. We all have thoughts, feelings, interests, fears, vulnerabilities, and hopes; this is how she sees her clients and how she bases therapy.
She’s interested in working with adolescents and adults who are navigating through various mental health complexities. She has experience working with depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol use, cancer diagnoses, personality disorders, eating disorders, and trauma. She also loves a group setting and would be happy to establish a group that fits people’s needs.
You are more than your diagnosis or hardships. Let’s work together to optimize your life and bring out your various strengths.