How to Help Children/Teens Manage School Stress
By Kim McDonald MA, LPC, NCC
Does seeing your child overwhelmed and stressed by school overwhelm and stress you out? If your answer is “yes”, you are not alone!
Countless parents are experiencing their own stress seeing their children frustrated by remote and/or hybrid learning.
As parents, we’re deeply connected to our children. What they feel, we feel. Yet if we’re not careful, we can easily become emotionally dis-regulated because we don’t know how to help them. We feel stuck and helpless. Those two don’t leave us feeling good.
When our child is experiencing big emotions, at times it may trigger a reaction that we need to “fix” the problem, punish the behavior or overcompensate to make them “feel better”.
Yet the best thing we can do is teach children/teens how to identify what they’re feeling and how to respond/manage the stress. Teaching them how to reduce the stress (instead of avoiding it or negatively coping) will build resiliency, strength and confidence.
Here are five ways that may help:
1. Validate the Feelings
Connect with what your child is feeling. Give them a moment of compassion rather than “fix”, minimize or dismiss their feelings.
Behavior is communication. Are they communicating they’re overwhelmed through tears and screaming? An effective response is to compassionately validate their feelings. “I see you’re frustrated” or “I see that today’s school work is overwhelming”. End the statement there. Your connection will build your child’s inner voice to validate the importance of their feelings.
2. Take a Break
Encourage your child that taking a break by walking outside, shooting basketballs or drawing in the fresh air will calm their anxiety. Offer to join them in the break and focus on chitchatting about positive memories and experiences. Take as long as they (you) need.
3. Be Playful/Use humor
A levity break often can be the best medicine. If your child has 8 assignments due and they’re feeling stressed, use humor to personify anxiety for children. “Look at Mr. Anxiety! He’s at it again! What do you want to say to him?”
For teens, perhaps exaggerating the workload and saying “I wonder if you were in charge of 8 assignments, what would you assign?’ Give your teen permission to use their imagination for humor and play to ease their frustrations.
4. Give Permission to Grow
Remote/hybrid learning is new for all of us. Parents and children are both learning how to navigate this new chapter in our life story. Dr. Becky Kennedy, a clinical psychologist specializing in anxiety and parenting, discussed the middle part of “not knowing” and “knowing” is LEARNING!
Gently remind your child/teen that they’re still learning. It’s ok to make mistakes. Perfection is an illusion. Growing is real. Providing space for a “growth mindset” will help your child/teen manage and reduce stress.
5. Reward Emotional Coping Skills
Most parents would agree that their child’s well being is the most important. Offer a reward for times you see your child/teen identify with their feeling and/or take a break to manage their stress. When you see your child using humor or a “growth mindset”, reinforce their efforts through rewards.
(Rewards shouldn’t be a new Xbox or American Girl doll. A reward could be parent/child time getting take-out from their favorite restaurant or grandparent/child time taking a bike ride together. Quality one-on-one time is a wonderful reward that will help your child feel important and loved.)
Remember, helping your child learn to manage stress is a marathon and not a sprint.
You may have grown up in a home filled with love and support from your parent(s) or you may have experienced caretakers who were supposed to take care of you emotionally and physically but they did the opposite. Regardless of your experience, you have the powerful to stop harmful generational cycles and cultivate new cycles that will teach your child to be resilient, confident and strong.