How to Help Students Cope with Stress During the School Year
What we can do is apply a few preventive steps to aid our children with stress prevention and management for those inevitable times. Some tactics may be easier to implement than you think and dually beneficial for the adults in the home as well as our school-aged children.
Step One: Laying Out Clothes the Night Before
For instance, one of the most sensible preventive strategies for a hectic start to the school day begins with the simple habit of laying out their clothes the night before. What can cause more morning chaos than “the outfit,” whether your child is in first grade or high school?
Planning and laying out clothing in the same designated spot nightly is imperative to an effortless start to the school day, all the way down to undergarments, socks, and shoes -- BOTH of them! And, no matter the grade level, this should be the responsibility of your child, NOT YOU! It’s a win/win.
This will prevent “has anyone seen my other shoe?” or the “where’s my favorite shirt?” scenario from being yelled around the house at 6:00 am. This may be a perfect time in your child’s life to begin teaching laundry skills.
Step Two: Pack Lunches and Backpacks the Night Before
Along with the outfit of the day, your child should never be allowed to go to bed without having their lunch packed (if they pack their lunch) and their backpack at the door and ready to go, along with all books, papers, laptop, signed permission slips, etc., zipped up and ready for the morning commute.
Mornings are not the time for signing their spelling test or writing a check for the upcoming field trip, nor is the time for lunch decisions. These topics should be addressed nightly.
Step Three: Have a Nighttime Routine That Promotes Plenty of Rest
Now that your child has a jumpstart on the next day let’s talk about bedtime. Bedtime should be a consistent routine. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has recommended that children aged 6–12 years should regularly sleep 9–12 hours per 24 hours, and teenagers aged 13–18 years should sleep 8–10 hours per 24 hours. Is your child getting enough sleep?
If not, this lack of sleep can induce stress by a chain reaction of events, including lack of focus, inability to stay on task, struggles with problem-solving, and overall poor academic performance. Also affected by lack of sleep is mood. When your emotions are raw, those ever-important peer relationships may be critically compromised.
To promote those desperately needed hours of sleep, understand the earlier screen time ends for the day, the easier the brain will allow sleep. Contrary to what your child thinks, it is okay to have all phones in one location of the house when the lights go out.
Alarm clocks are still on the market, folks. Additionally, make sure your child is not consuming too much caffeine or sweets, especially chocolates, in the evening hours. These may cause insomnia. For those older kids, ask them about energy drinks and coffee.
These drinks can be a roadblock to falling asleep if consumed later in the day. And in our busy homes, we as adults need to foster our child’s rest by keeping our own noise levels to a minimum after their bedtime.
Step Four: Facilitate Quiet Times
Speaking of noise level, our children need to have a time, or times, of the day where they can hear themselves think, reflect, imagine, and just “be.” Consider having a quiet time (unplugged) every evening.
If you have a crazy, busy, full house without the possibility of everyone retreating to a few moments of silence, assign a time and place in the home for each specific child, even if the rest of the house is still doing life. If you think you don’t have time for this, start small.
Even a five-minute session of solitude for your child is better than no session. If you don’t feel this time of mindfulness is invaluable, consider schools that have already implemented meditation have shown increased attendance, increased GPA average, and decreased events that require disciplinary action overall.
As well as meditation, simply getting outdoors can inherently decrease your child’s stress level. Take a stroll. Find a park. Ride a bike. Breathe in some fresh air. Physical activities, especially outdoor activities, increase your body’s oxygenation. The brain demands at least 20% of the body’s oxygen supply.
When it doesn’t get this supply, it can lead to issues such as sleep apnea, poor concentration, forgetfulness, mood swings, restlessness, depressive thoughts, and low drive. If you live in an area that makes getting outdoors unsafe, the weekends may be a great time for you to get outside with your children.
This is not only physiologically beneficial, but you are also creating core memories and strengthening the bond between you and your child. When a stressful event does arise, your child is emotionally stronger because being connected within a family intrinsically boosts coping skills.
Step Five: Talk With Your Child
While outside with your child, let this serve as an opportunity for them to open up to you. If they do open up, listen! Listen to what your child has to say. Listen non-judgmentally. Don’t interrupt them. And most importantly, contrary to what we may want to do as a parent, do not constantly give them advice unless they are asking for it. Again, just listen.
Children, at times, need to say something out loud to someone who cares for them to be able to process their stress. Give them the mic, and don’t take it away. Who knows, maybe the conversation will be lit. Maybe there will be laughter. Maybe not. But give them a chance to talk it out. They may tell you about the 87 they made on their math test when they expected it to be a 67. Maybe they will open up and tell you about something that is troubling them.
The fact that you have given them your undevoted time and attention for open communication, whether it be in the car on your way to school or in a park on a Saturday, that attention gives your child a sense of worth and security. That self-worth and security serve as a shield during stressful times when you are not by their side.
Step Six: Lighten the Extracurricular Load
Another major stressor for our children is the pressure that surrounds their jammed packed extracurricular calendars. It is only human nature to compare what your child is doing to others.
But should you really sign your child up for every single available activity, lesson, sport, event, play, travel team, club, camp, etc.? Or should you allow them to sign-up when they may not realize the impact the demands may have?
As parents, we do need to support our children when they want to pursue an extracurricular activity, certainly if they are thriving in the environment of that affair. Let’s face it, though, not every child is a prodigy or headed for the Olympics.
Too many commitments can negatively affect a child’s livelihood when they have no downtime to unwind and reset. As adults, we know we can only take on so much. We need to ensure our children don’t either.
The external stressors our children face during the school year are inescapable. We know that. But the structure provided outside of school and the tools we offer our children to aid in grappling with the stressful challenges of the school year will stay with them for a lifetime. And as parents, isn’t that what we want - to protect them from their stress for the duration of their lives?
At The Crenshaw School, we don’t believe in giving busy work that leads to stress. We want to raise leaders. We believe a strong foundation in academics and a well-rounded student are essential to the development in forming creative, thinking individuals. If you would like more information about how your child can be part of our school, please reach out to us today!