School Stress: 10 Ways Parents Can Help Kids Manage Stress

This is the eighth post in our weekly fall School Stress series, a back-to-school toolkit for parents on how to best navigate their teen’s stress and anxiety — explored in our documentary BREAKING POINTS.

stressed student studying at desk at home

Stress is part of kids’ lives. While some stress can help motivate them to get work done, too much stress can be overwhelming and can cause problems with health, sleep and brain function. And when stressed, as seen in the BREAKING POINTS trailer below, some teens and young adults may turn to abusing stimulants, like Adderall and Ritalin, to stay awake and focused:

With help from Dr. Denise Pope, one of the experts featured in the above trailer and co-founder of Challenge Success at Stanford University, and author of Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy Successful Kids, here are 10 ways parents can support their kids as they navigate their busy lives, including homework, downtime and re-framing what ‘success’ looks like in today’s hectic academic environment.

HOMEWORK

1.  Act as a cheerleader and supporter for your teen – provide the necessary supplies and show an active interest in the content your child is learning, but allow the teachers to handle it if your kid fails to do the homework correctly or regularly.

2. Recognize that children learn in different ways and have different work styles – some do homework all at once, while others need to take frequent breaks. Discuss with your child the working conditions that will lead to the best homework outcomes.

3.  Work WITH your child to develop a schedule that will allow time to complete homework, work on projects and study for tests – while still attending activities, getting adequate sleep and having time for play.

MAKE TIME FOR “PDF”

4.  Don’t underestimate the importance of non-academic achievements. Challenge Success emphasizes that kids – regardless of age — need playtime, downtime and family time (‘PDF’) each day. Research show this acts as a protective factor for long-term academic engagement and overall well-being.

5.  Allow space and rejuvenation between activities. Encourage teens to unwind by listening to music, reading for pleasure and spending time with friends. Kids need time to reflect and dream, explore the world, develop interests, make friends and craft an identity.

6.  Schedule high-quality family time multiple times a week to give kids the experience of unconditional love, acceptance and support. Eat meals together, take walks, swap stories and practice family traditions.

EMBRACE A BROADER DEFINITION OF SUCCESS

7.  As a family, discuss the characteristics of success that you value most (e.g., compassion, integrity, health). Remind your kids that success is measured over the course of a lifetime, not at the end of a semester.

8.  Explain that there are many different paths to success. Talk about your own path, including your struggles and failures.

9.  Examine the subtle messages you send your kids. If your first question after school is, “How’d you do on the test?” you may be implying that grades matter more than anything else. Instead, ask, “How was your day? Learn anything interesting? Did you get to spend time with friends?”

10.  Help your teen find the right-fit college or post-secondary opportunity. Debunk the myth that only the most prestigious colleges will lead to success.


KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Support your teens by giving them the skills to help plan their time better.
  • Encourage downtime for rejuvenation.
  • Foster a healthy definition of “success.” Make sure your children know that they are loved for who they are, not only for how well they perform.
  • Talk to them about the dangers of stimulant abuse.
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RESOURCES:

Bring BREAKING POINTS to Your Community

Host a screening of BREAKING POINTS, a documentary film that takes on the issue of study drugs and how they intersect with school stress. The package includes a Screening Guide with discussion questions and other bonus materials.

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