Most Iowa kids are about six weeks into the school year and now is around the time signs of stress start to appear. Lauren Nystrom, a mental health counselor from Urbandale, says some students are loaded with homework on top of competing in sports and participating in other extra-curricular activities.
While down time is important, Nystrom says parents need to resist the urge to pull their kid out of their clubs and teams.
“Because your child seems stressed doesn’t mean you want to cut out everything,” Nystrom says. “Balance is what’s important. You want to be talking to them and finding out what their stressors are and how they can find that balance between making sure they’re keeping up with their responsibilities at school and also getting that release from extracurricular activities.”
While every child is different and they’ll show stress in various ways, there are some common threads of which parents need to be aware. “Pay attention to changes in their behavior, if they’re seeming more irritable, if they’re complaining more,” she says. “Bigger things that could happen would be aggression or just avoidance of important things. If they’re developing more unhealthy habits or not sleeping or not eating, those are big things to watch out for.” A condition called “test anxiety” can be a reason for stress and a drop in grades. One study finds up to 20 percent of students have high test anxiety, making it the most prevalent scholastic impairment in schools today.
At what point should a parent take their child to a professional to help cope with stress? “A lot of times, what’s happening is common and it’s normal,” Nystrom says. “If you are feeling like you’re not sure, there’s nothing wrong with reaching out for help. You’re showing your children a really good model for handling stress and that’s to ask for help and to get input when you’re not sure about a problem.” Developing technology, the internet and social media may be simultaneously helping to relieve and create stress for students.
“I also spend time working in a school and I see both sides,” Nystrom says. “I see that this is where our world is going and we have to change with it and allow kids to use technology in a positive way. It can bring a lot of stress because they’ve got social media which, we know, is a big part of where bullying can come from, where peer pressures can come from.” Parents can help their kids with time management and organizational skills, she says, and also let them know that making mistakes is okay and it’s part of the learning process. Deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation exercises are also good things to know and apply to other areas of life as well.
Tips for Parents to Reduce School Stress:
1) Parents are role models and must handle stress appropriately.
2) Parents should meet and keep in contact with staff at school.
3) Tell children what they are doing well.
4) Remind children of stressful situations they have overcome.
5) Talk to your child about school and their friends.
Nystrom is a social worker at Compass Clinical Associates in Urbandale.