Re-framing school success
The start of the school year is an exciting time: possibilities for new friends, learning new things, and building toward future goals abound. But for many kids, it’s also a time of stress and anxiety: Will I do well in school? Will my parents be proud of me? Will I make the sports team? Will people like me?
Many of the young people we see at YES are having problems dealing with this stress — from their parents and their friends, but many times, from themselves. Sometimes the result of this stress is simply feeling lost or sad. Sometimes the situation is worse, and they’ve tried to stifle their worries with self-harm, or with drugs or alcohol.
Parents and concerned adults play a major role in how children cope with stress. Whether your child is just starting elementary school or getting ready to finish high school, here are seven suggestions to help you set them up for success this school year:
- Keep an open, communicative relationship with your child. Even if your child seems totally OK, open up a conversation to make sure that they feel safe talking with you about what’s going on in their life. Check in regularly. The simple act of listening and reassuring can go a long way.
- Make sure your child has a structured routine. Depending on their age, you can either set a predictable schedule for them, or if they’re older, help them create one. Just be sure not to over-schedule your child, or encourage over-scheduling. Leave some room for downtime.
- Help them find healthy outlets for stress. Does your child like music? Running? Reading? Cooking? Spending time with friends? Help your child find and indulge their passions to stave off stress.
- Teach and model problem-solving. When you run into an obstacle, what do you do? Kids watch and learn, so next time you’re in a tough spot, take a step back and show them patience, creativity and perseverance. Make sure your child also knows that it’s OK to fail sometimes; treat it as a learning opportunity, and emphasize effort over ability.
- Encourage good nutrition, exercise and rest. The foundation of a healthy kid is a balanced diet, regular activity and proper sleep — eight hours or more.
- Inform your child about upcoming life changes. If you know there will be a big change coming up — a new job, a trip, a move — treat your child like one of the team and let them know early. Better yet, get them involved in important decisions that impact them.
- Maintain perspective and encourage your child to do the same. The most important thing is your child’s health and well-being. Straight A’s or the “right” college won’t ensure that they’ll be happy in life.
No matter what you do, sometimes kids just need extra support. Irritability, headaches, stomach aches, changes in eating or sleeping habits, skipping school and clinginess can all be signs of a stressed-out kid. If you’re concerned about your child, call YES, and we can guide you to resources that can help you.
Most importantly, don’t forget to mitigate your own stress. Studies show that excess parental stress can decrease the quality of your relationship with your child, and increase the number of negative interactions you have with them. Even better: By managing your own stress, you’ll be setting a great example.