Children are often stressed about school, whether it is an upcoming test, not understanding a homework assignment, or something mean that a friend said to them the day before. For students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or other learning disorders (LD), stress can often make school issues worse. The magazine ADDitude has published an article on its website on “Why Stress at School is Toxic to Kids with ADHD or LD.” While focused on children with ADHD and LD, the article has useful information for parents of any student.
The article identifies the following behaviors as good indicators that you child may be under stress at school:
- Refusal to do the work
- Devaluation of the task (“This is so stupid.”)
- Acting up or acting out to direct attention away from a challenging task
- Acting “in” or becoming depressed and withdrawn
- Exhibiting signs of anxiety (sweaty palms, tremors, headaches, difficulty breathing)
- Becoming engrossed in a task that they are already successful at or one that is fun (e.g., refusing to stop writing a story, doing a drawing, playing a video game, or listening to music)
- Efforts to encourage (“I know you can do this.”) are met with more resistance
- Asking an adult to stay close and help with every problem
The article notes that chronic stress decreases memory and cognitive flexibility while increasing anxiety and vigilance. As a result, stressed students often become defensive and protective, behaviors that often result in a student being labeled as a “bad kid.” Most students would rather be known as a “troublemaker” or “class clown” than as stupid, and consequently live up to those reputations. For children with ADHD and LD, repeated difficulties in school often result in increased frustration, leading to extra stress on these students.
Turning Things Around
Stress is not necessarily a bad thing. Moderate stress helps the brain to grow and can teach children how to handle stress in the future. It is crucial, however, to interpret the cause of stress so it can be managed effectively, turning stress into the fuel for success rather than having it erode confidence. The article provides a DE-STRESS model to help parents and children accomplish this. The steps of the DE-STRESS model are:
- Define the condition
- Reduce the risk
Be sure to check out the full article for an in-depth description of what to do in each of these steps to help your child handle their stress in a productive manner.