Survive school stress at any age

By Ellen Shrouf

School has started, progress reports are coming in, and stress levels for parents and kids are rising. No matter what ages your children – or you – are, stress can cause a massive meltdown.

Dr. Ellen Shrouf, psychologist at the University Health System Behavioral Health Clinic, has some suggestions to help everyone stay cool – even if there’s a test tomorrow and a project that needs construction paper ASAP at 7 p.m.

First, remember some basic tips:

  • Develop routines
  • Learn to read your child: predict when they will be overwhelmed
  • Balance social, emotional and academic concerns
  • Model good stress management yourself

Have kindergartners or early elementary kids? Routines are your friend!

Establish as many routines as possible, especially at morning and bedtime. Weekends can vary some, but not a lot. These little ones are internalizing the structure of the classroom now and need to do the same at home. This makes little kids more comfortable, and they can withstand stress better.

If you see the tell-tale signs of stress, re-evaluate. Don’t do that last errand of the (long) day, quiet your own voice, and give an extra hug.

Friends are now made by the child him/herself. Positive reinforcement helps encourage them for trying even if they’re not very good at it yet.

Real academics start in these early grades. Remember: little kids need movement and fun to learn. Sitting still is stressful. Their emotions may be all over the place. Watch how the teacher handles the situation in the classroom; you can learn from an expert at stress-management.

Older elementary school: The pressure increases.

Your child may insist on their own routines now. This age can seem a little rigid. That’s okay. This is a time for consolidation of skills, which may seem quieter but is very important.

Stress may take the form of irritation or sarcasm. Your child now has the verbal skills to do that now – recognize it and respond to it as stress.

Academics shift dramatically. Up to 3rd grade, she is learning to read. Now it’s reading to learn. These older kids need to be more self-directed and responsible in the classroom. Mirror those expectations at home. Consistency between school and home expectations means less stress.

Encourage kids to come up with ideas for their own chores at home. This teaches responsibility. It can help them develop skills to manage future stress in middle and high school.

To request a consultation, call a University Health System clinic near you.

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