As the end of winter break approaches, there are kids who fear returning to school. These are the kids who have been bullied, feel they have no friends, are struggling academically. There are also kids, especially adolescents and young teens, who worry about whether or not they’ll be accepted back in their clique or how their friends will respond after not seeing them for the past few weeks. These, and other issues can cause kids to experience extreme stress.
While some stress can be normal, severe stress can lead to both mental and physical health issues for students, and create a cycle of poor grades, low confidence… and even more stress.
For many kids, the cause of severe school-related stress is too embarrassing to talk about. So, they don’t tell their parents and they keep it a secret. As winter break comes to an end, many of these silent sufferers desperately try to think of ways that they can avoid the pain associated with returning to school – perhaps it’s faking a sickness, running away or giving in to peer pressure. For those who suffer from a mental health issue, it can lead to a tragedy such as suicide or harming others.
Kids who suffer from severe school-related stress may need an adult’s help in order to address but may not know how or want to ask for it.
How Parents Can Help Address Severe School-Related Stress
- Recognize the signs
- A strong dislike for school. This may include repeatedly expressing a dislike for school, ditching and/or frequently claiming symptoms of illnesses to avoid going to school or to come home early.
- A change in friends and social behavior. It could be a “red flag” if your child suddenly starts doing less with his/her friends or is often excluded from invite lists and/or avoids going to social events.
- A change in eating and/or sleeping habits. Sudden changes in eating and/or sleeping warrant an investigation to the root cause. Examples include excessive sleeping, insomnia, no appetite and binge eating.
- Isolating in room and talking less. Children that are suffering severe stress often begin to socialize less with others, including their family.
- A decline in grades and academic performance. Academic struggles can be a cause of severe stress, and it can also be a sign of stress that’s caused by something else. For example, if a child is not getting enough sleep or begins to withdraw from social engagement at school, their grades can be affected.
- Identify the cause(s)
- Bullying. It is estimated that the majority of students will be impacted by bullying – either as the victim, bystander or bully, by the time that they graduate from high school. Bullying can cause severe stress for all who has been involved, regardless of their role or position in the bullying. Unresolved bullying can lead to long-term consequences that can negatively impact a person’s quality of life. Learn the 6 common myths about bullying.
- Academic Struggles. While academic struggles can be a sign of another issue, it can also be the cause of school-related stress. Children that continuously struggle and perform lower than their peers can suffer from low self-esteem and anxiety.
- Social Media and Digital Technology. Surveys indicates that the majority of tweens and teens use social media. Although meant for entertainment and to help stay connected to others, if not careful, social media, online gaming and texting can easily lead to unhealthy relationships and obsessive behaviors. For tweens and teens, social media can become a popularity contest, a place to show off and put others down. Cyberbullying is a common example of what happens when social media is used in a negative way.
- Social Pressures. As kids get older, their friendships and social circles may change. These changes can lead to social pressures that result in kids either doing things that they don’t really want and/or causing them to feel bad about themselves because of not “fitting in.” Depending on how a child is being pressured, this can lead to severe stress and even impact a child’s self-esteem.
- Help your child cope
Empathy, empowerment and engagement can help increase your child’s self-esteem and reduce his or stress and anxiety.
- Empathy means understanding your child’s perspective from their viewpoint. To be able to understand how your child is feeling, you must truly listen. Part of empathy is asking how your child feels vs. telling or assuming.
- Empowerment means helping your child have the confidence he or she needs to make their voice heard. Encourage your child to share his own thoughts or opinions. Whether she’s been a victim of bullying or is having other issues at school, empower her to develop a game plan for gaining a resolution.
- Engagement means helping your child carry out her plan of resolution. Providing support and consistently checking in with your child, the school any other people involved to help ensure your child reaches a resolution.
The Empowered Child: How to Help Your Child Cope, Communicate, and Conquer Bullying book provides more information on using empathy, empowerment and engagement to help your child heal from bullying or other issues.
For children who have been bullied, The Empowerment Space program provides a safe space with support, guidance and education to empower bullying victims to heal, address conflict and move forward.
About the Author:
Danielle Matthew is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who treats bully victims and their families and educates schools, medical professionals and the community about the bullying epidemic. With over 20 years of experience, Danielle authored Amazon Parenting Best-Seller, The Empowered Child: How to Help Your Child Cope, Communicate, and Conquer Bullying, and is the Director of The Empowerment Space Bullying Therapy Program in Los Angeles. Featured in Huffington Post and TODAY.com, Danielle has appeared on Fox, ABC and CBS Morning Shows and Mom Talk Radio, and is the expert contributor to Washington Post’s article: “Kids love to ‘roast’ each other. But when does good-natured teasing become bullying?”