Student Stress

I’ve spent more wild Friday nights than I care to admit perusing the Knowledge Center on the American Counseling Association website. Tonight I ran across an old article about the effects of stress on the body that drew me in because one of my favorite classes from college was on Stress Psychology. I even did my senior research on the effects of time of daily exercise on overall daily stress levels (go ahead and interrupt me if I start nerd-ing out over this again!).

Most adults know what stress is, live in stress, and accept it as a norm! But what about our little guys? This article got me thinking about our little students who might not realize a) what stress is,  b) why they are experiencing it, c) how to talk about it, and d) what to do about it. So how can we help them?
First, it’s important to recognize when your little learner might be experiencing stress. With changing standards, students are under more pressure than ever to meet rigorous school demands, so it’s no wonder they might be experiencing elevated stress levels. Some behavioral changes they might exhibit are anger, frustration, or impatience over their work or other tasks (these feelings might be directed at other tasks such as chores or extracurricular activities), changes in sleep patterns, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, changes in eating habits, and difficulty making decisions. If you notice any of these things in your child and it persists, your child might be experiencing stress! It’s also important to have your child evaluated by a medical professional to rule out a medical issue.
So, how can we help? Many students find it reassuring just knowing what stress is and that they are not the only ones experiencing it. Explain to them that sometimes things happen in life, that may be in our control or out of it, that make us feel a little out of sorts. When we are under stress, our bodies have a “stress response” that can change the way we feel, act, and think. Talk about the things that are going on their lives at school, at home, with friends, with extracurriculars, etc. Ask how they are feeling about these areas of their lives. Open the door for conversation! Sometimes it helps to explain a stressor in your own life or a time when you felt stressed and how you dealt with it. 
Come up with a way to talk about stress. Maybe your child could say, “I’m feeling stressed. Can you help me figure out some things?” or something silly like, “Houston, I have a problem!” Some kids like giving their stress a name and can say, “Sally Stress is here again.” Next, give them the dialogue to describe what’s happening in their bodies. Here’s an example: “My heart is pounding and my palms are sweating. My stomach is tight, and I need some time to relax!” Giving your child permission to talk about the things that are creating a stress response for him/her can be stress-relieving in itself! 
Finally, what can you do to help relieve some of the stress? Most importantly, let your child know that you LOVE him/her and your love is not dependent on their school/social/sports performance. Brainstorm some activities that might relieve some stress with your child. If you have a particularly active child, tossing a ball outside or going on a hike together might help. If you have a child who likes to write or is artistically expressive, journaling, painting, or drawing can be helpful. If  your child is feeling overwhelmed by several activities, consider dropping an extracurricular activity until the stress in another area dissipates (remember, Kindergarten karate doesn’t actually go on college applications ;-)). If your child is feeling particularly stressed about school work, consider setting up a meeting with your child’s teacher and counselor to discuss some ways that you can work together to combat the stress at school and at home. 
How do you talk to your child about stress? What are some methods of stress reduction that have been helpful for you or your child? I love hearing from you!

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