With many families filling their children’s after-school hours with activities, lessons and sports, today’s child leads a fast-paced life.
And it's no surprise: with college admissions more competitive than ever, high school (and even middle school) students are feeling the pressure to set themselves apart with résumés loaded with extracurricular activities, impressive work and volunteer experiences, and the highest possible grades and college entrance exam scores.
No doubt about it, school can be a major source of stress for most children and their parents. Unfortunately, stress can have a significant effect on a child’s health and well-being, and is linked to many health problems. In fact, children whose lives are filled with stress and school pressures often show physical signs such as headaches and stomachaches and psychological signs such as depression. They may suffer from decreased energy and are often more susceptible to frequent colds or other illnesses.
How can parents help their children overcome stress about school and grades? Here are several tips:
* Talk about it. Despite your family’s hectic life, spend regular, quality time with your child—time that isn’t homework time or driving your child to an activity. If you notice signs of stress, gently probe for more information. If your child does open up, be supportive and non-judgmental and validate his or her feelings. Children need to know that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed sometimes and that admitting these feelings to their parents will not disappoint or upset them.
* Teach your child to prioritize. Just as working adults occasionally feel like they have so much work to do it is impossible to know where to begin, students, too, sometimes feel inundated with responsibilities. Teach your child to organize homework by due date. If an assignment is due tomorrow, obviously it takes priority over a project due next week. The same approach should be taken with activities, too. If your child is too busy to handle soccer, violin lessons and the math team on top of school, which does he or she like least? Learning to prioritize is a crucial skill that will help your child manage his or her time, stay organized and minimize his or her stress level.
* Allow for free time. Between school, after-school activities and homework, many elementary school children are unfamiliar with the concept of “free” time. And many families increasingly see summertime as the perfect opportunity to enroll their children in additional educational programs or other activities, making this concept almost nonexistent. Such a constantly scheduled life can lead a child directly down the path of early burnout. Allow for some amount of unstructured time in your child’s day where he or she gets to choose what to do. This encourages decision-making and creativity—both important skills for later in life.
* Don’t push excessively. When it comes to school, many parents set the bar high for their children in an attempt to teach them the importance of commitment and sacrifice. Certainly, to achieve any goal in life your child will need to work hard and show serious dedication, but too much parental pressure is likely to backfire in the long run. Parents who push their children too hard without showing them enough love and acceptance risk raising a child who is a strong student, but is unhappy, overstressed and feels that he or she has no control of his or her own life.
* Teach your child the joy of learning. Teaching a child to be interested in the world around him or her is the key to making learning fun. Students who are eager to take in new knowledge are likely to enjoy school more, and therefore, less focused on grades and report cards. The upside is that students who find learning to be fun will likely do well in school as well.
It’s unrealistic to expect your child to lead a completely stress-free life. Your child will have to deal with plenty of stressful situations as an adult, and some amount of anxiety and pressure throughout his or her education is an important part of growing up and maturing. But kids need to be kids, too. Minimize the amount of unnecessary pressure you place on your child and help him or her be a happier student overall.