Helping Your Child Cope with Stress

Life can be stressful at times, even for kids. Concerns about grades, peer pressure, friend issues, bullying, traumatic events, and more can lead to stress. Some stress can be productive—cortisol, the “stress hormone,” increases blood sugar, metabolism, and memory function, and provides a temporary boost to physical and mental ability. Those brief periods of stress can be productive and help a child be motivated to accomplish tasks that might be a little intimidating.

However, when stressful feelings continue over time, cortisol impairs brain functioning and suppresses the immune system. During childhood when the brain is still connecting the neural circuits for dealing with stress, chronic stress can rewire the brain to become overly reactive or slow to shut down when faced with threats. Chronic stress in childhood can evenincrease the risk of diseases in adulthood.

How to Cope with Stress

Much of how to cope with stress applies to anyone, adults or children.

  • Take care of SELF (Sleep, Exercise, Leisure, and Food)—get plenty of sleep, get some exercise, do something fun and relaxing to take a break, and eat healthy.
  • Talk to others, sharing your problems and how you are feeling and coping.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol—while they may seem to ease stress in the short term, over the long term they create problems that increase stress.
  • Take a break from what’s causing your stress.
  • Recognize when you need more help.

Helping Your Child Cope with Stress

Stress often comes in part from feeling unable to manage what life is giving you, and for children, there are many things that can leave them feeling helpless, as they have less experience in dealing with difficulties. Keep in mind the coping strategies above, and talk with your child to help them to process what is causing their stress. Additional ways you can help your child cope are:

  • Maintain a normal routine—familiarity helps to provide a sense of stability.
  • Talk, listen, and encourage expression. Give your child opportunities to talk, but don’t force them. Listen to what their thoughts, feelings, and worries are, and share some of yours. Keep the lines of communication open, and check in with them to see how they feel after a week, a month, or more.
  • Watch and listen. Be alert for any changes in behavior, including sleeping, eating, and connecting with friends. Even small changes may indicate your child is having trouble dealing with stress.
  • Reassure your child about their safety and well-being, particularly if the stress is caused by a traumatic event.
  • Connect with others—your child’s teachers and other parents may have additional suggestions on how to help your child cope.
  • Promote a growth mindset. If your child is stressed about their grades or school work, developing a growth mindset can help. Research indicatesthat while many students’ stress levels increase after receiving a bad grade, students who believe that intelligence can be developed are more likely to see academic setbacks as temporary, they stress less over a bad grade, and they return to normal stress levels more quickly afterwards.

What Schools Can Do

Teachers and other school personnel see students almost as much as their families during the week, so they may also notice children exhibiting signs of stress. In addition, some student stress may stem from poor academic performance, bullying, or other stressful situations related to school (e.g., worries about safety after news coverage of a school shooting). Here’s how schools can help students cope with stress:

  • Reach out and talk. Create opportunities for students to talk, but don’t force them. Try asking questions like, what do you think about these events, or how do you think these things happen? You can be a model by sharing some of your own thoughts as well as correct misinformation. When children talk about their feelings, it can help them cope and to know that different feelings are normal.
  • Watch and listen. Be alert for any change in behavior. Are students talking more or less? Withdrawing from friends? Acting out? Are they behaving in any way out of the ordinary? These changes may be early warning signs that a student is struggling and needs extra support from the school and family.
  • Maintain normal routines. A regular classroom schedule can provide reassurance and promote a sense of stability and safety.
  • Take care of yourself. You can better support students if you are healthy, coping, and taking care of yourself first.

Resources

If you need to reach out for extra support or immediate help, contact one of the following crisis hotlines:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-888-628-9454 for Spanish-speaking callers)
  • Youth Mental Health Line: 1-888-568-1112
  • Child-Help USA: 1-800-422-4453 (coping with stress)
  • Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990

What Do Top Students Do Differently?

When asked why the top performing students do so well at school, there are a couple common answers—high IQ and hard work. Douglas Barton and his team at Elevate Education wanted to find out if that was actually the case by spending 13 years studying the most effective practices used by the top students in Australia, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and the United States.

The team’s research had three key findings:

  1. The top students don’t necessarily do better because they have a higher IQ or because they are smarter than everyone else.
  2. There are a small set of skills that are statistically significant in explaining why the top students do better than their peers, and these skills are relevant across countries.
  3. These skills can be taught to and used by any student to improve their academic performance.

One of the key skills that was incredibly predictive was taking practice tests. The research found that the number of practice tests a student did could be used to accurately predict not only how a student would perform but also could accurately rank an entire class based on that measure alone. Top performing students take far more practice tests than their peers, and that doing so helps the student move beyond just memorizing material.

Another key skill was not just working hard. Top student do work hard, but the research showed that many students who worked just as hard or harder didn’t perform as well. The reason for the difference is that it is important to work hard at the right things. Poor study skills applied more diligently won’t lead to better performance, but leads to disengagement as the student notes that they worked harder but still got poor results.

So what are the right things to work hard at? Barton’s team identified 13 key skills that top students used to differentiate themselves from their peers. In his TEDxYouth@Tallinn talk, Barton highlighted two of those: doing practice exams and creating a study schedule.

While the majority of students review their notes out of a fear of forgetting something during an exam, the top students do practice tests that require them to apply what they remember, which better prepares them for their exams. Similarly, many students create study schedules, but the vast majority of them stick to that schedule for less than a week. The top students, on the other hand, typically stick to their schedule for over month. These top students stick to their schedule by creating it in a different way—they put in the things that they like to do first (e.g., hobbies, sports, socializing, etc.) before they put in their study times. This ensures that they have time scheduled to enjoy things, which makes studying not seem like a chore that is taking them away from the things they want to do. You can view Douglas Barton’s TEDxYouth@Tallinn talk below.

 

 

Supporting Your Teen at School

Your child spends almost one-third of their day at school, which makes it an important influence on their life. In the teen years, that influence likely grows as their friends opinions begin to play a more central role in their lives. One of the most powerful indicators of teenagers’ success in school is their connection to school—feeling like they belong at the school and are close to others there, including teachers. Attachment to school is associated with lower use of alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana, as well as lower rates of sexual activity, fewer thoughts about or attempts at suicide, and lower levels of violent behavior.

Research shows that even in the teen years, parents who are involved in their child’s education improve their academic success. Yet many parents become less involved as their child reaches middle and high school. While your child may be breaking away a bit more as they reach the teen years and look for more independence, there are still ways for you to be involved. The extension office at the University of Minnesota has some suggestions:

  • Expect success
  • Communicate with teachers
  • Support student activities
  • Volunteer in the school
  • Involve both parents
  • Encourage your teen to tutor or mentor others
  • Recognize your teen’s academic accomplishments
  • Create a positive home environment that encourages learning
  • Establish quiet time every night for studying, reading, or writing
  • Provide extra support to your teen during transitional times
  • Talk with your teen about their school classes and activities and monitor their attendance
  • Keep a calendar that lists school events, projects, and activities, as well as family events
  • Use screens wisely
  • Know how and where your kids spend free time, especially after school

For more information on these points, see the full article from Minnesota extension.

8 Actions Parents Can Take to End Bullying

It can be difficult as a parent to help your child through being bullied, and even harder when it turns out your child is the bully. Add in cyberbullying, which wasn’t even possible when most of today’s parents were kids, and it can be easy to feel at a loss about what to do.

With recent studies showing that at least half of all children are directly involved in bullying either as the victim, perpetrator, or both, there’s a high likelihood that your child will come in personal contact with bullying. Think Kindnesshas a list of eight actions parents can take to end bullying:

  1. Talk with your kids—every day.
  2. Spend time and volunteer at your school.
  3. Be a good example of kindness.
  4. Learn the signs and symptoms.
  5. Create healthy anti-bully habits early.
  6. Establish household rules about bullying.
  7. Teach your children to be a good witness.
  8. Teach your child about cyberbullying.

The article has additional information on each of these pointsto help you take a pro-active approach to bullying with your child. In addition, your PTA may want to implement PTA’s Connect for Respectprogram at your school. The program provides your PTA with the tools to have a meaningful and productive conversation on bullying with both students and families.