By The Hearty Soul
For many parents, it’s easy to think back to nail-biting college or university days. High stress levels have always been par for the course when it comes to higher education, but did you know that these academic anxieties are creeping into high school and even elementary school-aged children? For college students and parents, it’s important to recognize the dangers of putting grades first and neglecting mental health.
Your Child’s Mental Health
School comes at a time when children figure out their self-worth, identity, and place in the world. During this time, students are being evaluated and tested on their skills and knowledge. Studies show 1 that self-concept, or your own sense of who you are and where you belong, is largely shaped through comparisons to peers. For kids in school, it’s all too easy to compare with peers where all achievements and aptitudes are graded and handed back.
Even gifted children can suffer from this effect. Called ‘the little fish in a big pond effect’, researchers found 2 that placing your gifted child in an environment full of other gifted children causes them to perceive their own abilities as less than they really are. This leads to stress and anxiety, and can severely sabotage their chances of success. Some examples of this include enrolling in AP classes or skipping grades.
School is also a social environment. Our environment can cause stress and anxiety too. A study 3 on bullying found that victims of bullying had much higher levels of anxiety and depression than other children. Over time, anxiety and depression can lead to more health problems than non-victimized children.
Stress can worsen mental and physical health issues in people of all ages, but in children and teens, it can lead to behavioral issues. One study 4 of Canadian grade six to grade eight students confirmed that stress is associated with increased involvement in smoking cigarettes. Another study 5 found that as a reaction to low self-esteem, some students skip school because it raises their self-esteem. There are better, healthier ways to raise self-esteem. Both of these behaviors can lead to more serious problems later in life.
How to Reduce School Stress
School stress is a serious issue affecting students of all ages. The good news is, there are lots of ways to help manage the stress, anxiety and depression school can cause!
5 easy tips to reduce your school stress
- Focus on your own goals. Don’t compare grades with your peers, just do your best for yourself.
- Stay organized. Managing your time and space effectively will have a massively positive impact on your stress level. This includes your workspace at home, and making sure you give yourself time for school, homework and time to relax.
- Actually go to class. For university, college and even high school students, the temptation to skip class and catch up later is strong. Staying engaged with your classes will help you learn more, helping you later when you start studying.
- Do things. Procrastination is the enemy of all students. Studying and doing assignments at the last minute will stress you out, making all that time you spent relaxing before you started useless. Work first, then relax.
Watch this video to help you keep grades and school worries in perspective:
How to help your child deal with stress and anxiety
Get kids outside to play, especially if it gets them out of breath and sweating. Physical activity is a great way to improve mental and physical health. Students who participated in a high-intensity exercise program reported much lower levels of anxiety and depression than students who did not exercise. 6 Even better, physical exercise moderates school related stress directly. Teens who reported school-related stress were less likely to have health issues if they participated in physical activity at least once a week in their leisure time.
Getting kids involved with hobbies and interests is another way to defuse stress. Encouraging kids to play and find new interests is a great way to infuse their lives with small positive daily experiences. Little things can have a big impact on perceived quality of life. 1 On top of that, when kids and teens explore what they like and are good at outside of the competitive school environment, they’ll find out more about themselves.
Consider trying meditation with your child for a few minutes each day. Meditation can help people of all ages feel more calm and centered. Consider it a break from homework and studying. Meditating with your child also gives them an opportunity to come to you with worries and concerns about school, which can help too.
Dealing with stress in the school years is tough, but remember that no matter how old you are, you’ll eventually be finished school and ready to move on to bigger and better things. By taking care of your physical and mental health while you’re in school, you’ll make sure your mind and body are ready to take on whatever comes next.