Stress seems to be woven into education's DNA. Little wonder given that schools are relentlessly pressured by goverment to achieve better results. With national testing in primary schools, homework every night and competition to secure entry into independent schools, children are under pressure even more.
Consequently, YoungMinds report there has been a 12% increase in youngsters calling its helpline, struggling to cope with exam stress.
Not only this, but society demands our children must belong, be attractive, have the latest digital gadgets. Plus an increase in online bullying means children are targeted in their bedrooms these days.
Growing up, of course, has always been a testing time. Aside from seeking their own identity, children sometimes juggle a family breakdown alongside raging hormones. That said, children need to know life isn't always easy - and that exam nerves and challenges are a healthy part of growing up.
What is more unusual, though, is when children get completely overwhelmed by things, or feel constantly under pressure. But how do you spot the 'stress' signs? What should you look out for?
Is your child stressed?
Typical warning signs include:
- Uncharacteristic aggression or outbursts
- Withdrawl... Being quiet when previously outgoing
- A lack of interest in going out, seeing friends, hobbies
- Change in sleeping and eating patterns
- Stomach aches, headaches, illness
- Voicing negative comments such as 'I'm stupid' or 'everyone hates me'
- Refusal to go to school
- Self harm
Because children don't often know how to verbalise their feelings, hurt might manifest as anger, for instance. So keep calm rather than react to shouting.
How to support your child with academic stress
For starters, kindness is key. Gentle support is always better than confrontation.
- Cherish your child's strengths - both academically and non curricular.
- Praise praise praise them for the smallest achievement to boost their sense of worth.
- Set realistic - achievable - academic goals to start with, and then push boundaries.
- Stress that their academic achievement doesn't define who they are.
- Challenge your child's school if you feel they are applying too much pressure.
- Chatting about school over pizza could help diffuse stress. Once your child says something negative about a particular subject/lesson, you are closer to working out the problem.
- If a specific subject is the problem, see if you can break it down even more. Is it a problem in class? Is it a lack of understanding? When your child has homework in that subject, make time to sit with them while they are doing it. Be cheerful. 'Let's do the first question together. Bet you can teach me a thing or two!'
- If your child is prepping for entrance exams on top of schoolwork, build some fun downtime activities into their week as a reward.
- If you have other children, try not to compare them with each other. 'His sister is so much better at Maths than x' will just make your child feel even more of a let down.
- If your child resists doing/talking about schoolwork with you - many parents tell us this happens - consider arranging tuition with a professional tutor who will use different techniques to engage your child. Sometimes, children don't want to let their parents down by not understanding something.
Are you are worried or concerned about your child's progress, and don't know what to do about it? Please call us for advice. Lemon Tree Tutors is based in Surrey close to Weybridge, Cobham or Guildford. So local, friendly support is there when you need it.