With today’s increasing pressures – from ongoing exams, to social media and newfound responsibility – kids and adolescents can feel like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. But for any concerned parents, teachers or friends, there are some simple yet effective ways you can support them
Whenever exam time rolls around or a new term begins, we’re reminded of how stressful things can be for teens. In 2017, the NSPCC reported an 11% increase in teens seeking counselling sessions with feelings of being overwhelmed due to exam stress, excessive workloads, and feeling unprepared. It can be easy to overlook how stressed younger children can feel between homework, tests, after-school clubs, family changes, misunderstandings with friends, and more.
We’ve put together a few simple tips to help you support stressed out children and encourage them to develop healthy, sustainable ways to handle their feelings.
Take a step back (but make it clear you’re there for them)
Hovering while they’re doing homework, checking to make sure they’re paying attention, or trying to step in and manage their workload, can be tempting. This may make kids feel more pressured or less confident in themselves and their abilities, though. Instead, let them know you are there to help or talk if they need anything. Start a gentle conversation to help them think through everything they have to get done, and to encourage them to develop their own action plan.
Praise effort and improvement, not grades or results
Focusing on the end result can feel frustrating or overwhelming for children if it’s a topic they struggle with. By emphasising their grade or the end result, kids may become anxious if their work isn’t perfect. Make sure they know it’s OK to make mistakes, and they aren’t expected to know everything. Encourage them to try their best, ask questions, and think of other ways they can approach things if they get stuck.
Schedule less, play more
It’s easy to forget how busy kids can be. We expect them to pay attention for six or seven hours a day at school, take part in after-school clubs or groups, finish homework in multiple subjects, and get to bed at a reasonable time. It’s important to make sure we aren’t over-scheduling them with extra tutoring sessions, too many clubs, or added responsibilities. Make sure there’s still time to play, relax and unwind. Try using family meals together as a way to break up the day between school, homework, and free time.
Encourage children to speak up if things are feeling too much, and try letting them manage their own schedules. It’s important for kids to learn their own limits early so they can better manage their workloads when homework and exam pressure starts to increase as they progress through school.
Routines can be reassuring during stressful times. Healthy, regular sleep patterns can help minimise stress, improve school performance, and boost mood. Create a tech-free, relaxing bedtime routine by ditching bedroom screens. Help kids to wind-down and get ready with a warm, relaxing bath or shower 30 to 90 minutes before bedtime. Try to include a calming activity you can do together, or children can do by themselves, just before bed, like reading or simple breathing exercises. Remember to stick to the same bedtime, even at weekends, to avoid disrupting their sleeping patterns, and kickstart the new week in the best way.
Manage your own stress
Kids can be pretty perceptive. If you’re stressed, they can pick up on this, and may begin feeling anxious or stressed. If children see parents or close relatives avoiding stressful situations, leaving things to the last minute, or putting their self-care last, they may mirror these ways of dealing with stress, rather than developing healthy coping strategies. Set a positive example for kids by building time in to your week for regular self-care, keeping your schedule manageable, and showing kids simple ways they can combat signs of stress, such as practising mindful breathing or meditation.
For more ideas and resources to support children’s wellbeing, visit Counselling Directory