7 Tips to Help Your Child Manage School Stress

Understanding Teens

This is the first 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.

If your son or daughter is starting college, you’ve probably procured dorm room bedding, textbooks, and a meal plan. But have you prepared your student to handle anxiety and stress?

College students today often feel overwhelming academic and social pressure. A survey conducted by The JED Foundation, the Jordan Porco Foundation, and the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids found that half of first-year students said they felt stressed most or all of the time.

With help from Clinical Pyschologist, Dr. Meredith Grossman, here are 7 simple techniques to help your college student better manage the stress and anxiety he or she may face in the year ahead.

1. BREATHE: “Teach them to manage their stress in a healthy way,” suggests Dr. Grossman. One great way is breathing with your stomach. Another good technique is noticing your breath by saying, ‘I am breathing in’ when you breath in and ‘I am breathing out’ when you breathe out. Make sure you are modeling this for them. Even if they roll their eyes, or say it is stupid, modeling is the most powerful form of learning, so be sure to model healthy ways to cope with stress. For an easy guide, Dr. Grossman recommends the app “Stop, Breathe and Think.”

2. PRACTICE MINDFULNESS: Mindfulness helps bring you out of your anxious thoughts and into the present moment. Dr. Grossman suggests two easy methods: “3×3” works by taking in your surroundings and noticing three things you hear, three things you feel and three things you see. Another is to look around you and notice something that starts with an A, a B, a C, etc. until you’ve completed the alphabet.

3. TEACH THEM “TLC”: TLC stands for “Talk to a Friend, Look for the Silver Lining, and Change the Channel.” If your son or daughter is feeling anxious, he or she should talk to a friend/parent/counselor/teacher, then look for the silver lining (no matter how bad things are, there is always a silver lining or a way things could be worse) and then change the channel – which means find a positive distraction such as taking a walk, taking a shower, or doing a mindful breathing exercise.

4. DEMONSTRATE “RID”: Another tool Dr. Grossman suggests is to RID yourself of anxiety by first “Renaming your thought” – remind yourself that you’re just having an anxious thought. Then Insist that YOU are in charge (not your anxious thought). Anxiety plays tricks on us and what we worry about rarely comes true. Then Defy your anxiety by doing the opposite of what your anxiety wants you to do. Anxiety wants you to avoid what you are afraid of. You need to do the opposite: Face your fear and you will overcome it.

5. ENCOURAGE GRATITUDE EXERCISES: Being grateful helps your child reframe her thoughts. Studies show that people who engage in the habit of expressing gratitude are more likely to be happy and healthy. Gratitude exercises can be as simple as thinking of three things for which you’re grateful, sending a quick thank-you text to a friend, or jotting down a couple reasons why you feel lucky.

6. TELL THEM TO SET ASIDE QUIET TIME: Encourage your teen to find a few minutes of alone time each day to relax, stretch or listen to music to reduce negative emotional states. Encourage them to plan a weekly workout schedule. Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise 3-5 times a week can help the mind and body handle stress.

7. MAKE SURE THEY ASK FOR HELP: Remind your son or daughter that it’s okay to ask for help – whether for academics, stress, or mental health. Make sure your teen knows about campus health programs, mental health services, and resources. Encourage him or her to seek help if needed. In addition, familiarize yourself with resources for parents and create a list of people you, as a parent, can reach out to on campus if you are concerned about your son or daughter’s health. If you’re worried about your child, consult with a therapist. If you are worried about your child’s drinking or drug use, please call our Parents Toll-Free Helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE (1-855-378-4373) to speak with a trained and caring specialist.


    • If Your Child Calls Home Upset or Anxious: Dr. Grossman suggests trying to remain calm. First validate how they’re feeling (Ex: “It sounds like this is a really hard time for you,”) and be positive. If they’re struggling with grades, tell them you know they can turn it around. Reassure them that they’ll be okay. You can say, “I believe you can do it. I know you can handle it.” Remind them that they can’t control their emotions, but they can control their actions.
    • Be Aware of Benzodiazepine and Stimulant Abuse: Some students abuse prescription drugs not prescribed to them, such as benzodiazepines to feel calm, sleepy or less anxious and stimulants to stay up late and cram for exams. Learn more about the effects of benzodiazepine abuse and the effects of stimulant abuse.
  • Discuss Drugs & Alcohol: Research shows that students who choose not to drink often do so because their parents discussed alcohol use and its adverse consequences with them. Talk about the dangers of drug and alcohol use, including medicine abuse, binge drinking, and mixing substances. Remind your child that using drugs and alcohol can impact their classwork, relationships, and safety. It can also impair judgment and lead to bad decision-making and risky situations. Come from a place of love. You can say, “If anything happened to you, I would be devastated,” or “Be true to who you are.”



To Help Your College Student Handle Stress and Anxiety:

  • Prepare him or her with breathing techniques, mindfulness and other tools to help him or her relax and redirect their thoughts.
  • Be sure he or she knows how and where to get help on campus.
  • Talk to him or her about the dangers of drinking and using drugs, including abusing prescription drugs not prescribed to him or her.

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.

Breaking Points film
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    Peter Morgan

    September 8, 2016 at 9:22 AM

    Good article for parents! parents can decrease stress of their children by the tips described above. Students are very sensitive now a days and get stress easily from the burden of studies or etc.

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    fra frason

    August 26, 2016 at 5:57 AM

    very nice..post

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