Too Stressed for School Success?

Read what Lori, a 13-year-old, said to me. Are we listening to our kids or just asking about tests, grades, and is their homework done?

“All the teachers care about is if I did my homework. They don’t even ask me about my life. My dad lost his job and my mom has cancer. Homework is the last thing on my mind.” Lori is stressed and it’s not about school.

Everyone has personal problems sometimes. Some are serious like Lori’s, others not so serious. Sometimes minor problems are blown out of proportion and appear to be more important than they are, impacting on more important things such as schoolwork.  Big or small, we need to pay attention to how our children think about their lives and what’s worrying them.

Some minor issues come and go. Maybe your child had an argument with a friend or a teacher, or he can’t decide what to wear so he’ll fit in. She’s worried about whether to join a sports team.

Some issues, while not catastrophic, are more persistent. For example, some kids worry so much about grades they can’t think about anything else. It doesn’t matter how important these issues are in your eyes, they can cause real stress.

An over-stressed child may have trouble concentrating, relaxing, studying properly, sleeping and, as a result, achieving in school. Research has shown that stress actually changes the way our brains function. When we’re stressed, we can’t think very well.

In many ways students have more stress than adults, even though adults seem to think today’s kids have it easy.
Since most parents aren’t trained psychologists, it’s normal if you don’t know what to do when you think your child is “stressed out.” Don’t be embarrassed to seek professional help. After all, mental health professionals seek help themselves when they are stressed out.

Symptoms of Stress:
• Your child is so worried that he can’t think clearly.
• Your child blows minor problems out of proportion.
• Your child isn’t eating or sleeping well.
• Your child has trouble concentrating.
• Your child is afraid to go to school.
• Your child cries easily and complains of stomach aches or headaches.
• Suddenly your child is blinking a lot or biting his nails.

Three Recommendations to Lower Your Child’s Stress

1. Are lines of communication open? Establish quiet and calm times to sit with your child to a talk about problems that are bothering him. Together come up with options to solve the problems.

2. Are you causing stress and too much pressure? Examine your own behavior to see if the stress your child is feeling is actually coming from you. Behavior may come from actions, words, or simply the high standards you represent, without you saying or doing anything.

If school-related pressure seems to be the issue, check if you or your spouse is putting too much pressure on your child, intentionally or not. This isn’t easy because most parents don’t actually know what their child is capable of achieving. We all think our kids are the greatest and can do whatever they decide to do.

Unfortunately, that’s not reality. Everyone’s potential is different and everyone’s personality is different. What may have been easy for you or for your other kids may not be easy for your child who’s experiencing stress overload.

3. Are you having fun? Some kids are so stressed out from school, and their parents so stressed and unhappy, that nobody’s having fun. Kids are denied the kind of fun that should be a natural part of childhood. Share funny stories at meals, go to the movies together, play computer or board games, or just tell jokes. Kids like you to have fun with them, to laugh together.

Just as with adults, stress causes illness and poor performance. It can cause bad grades and poor test scores. Help your kids get rid of stress. Sometimes it helps to just slow down. Listening helps too.

What causes your kids to be stressed out?  What do you do about it. Let us know. We love to get your comments.

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