Let’s welcome Sharon Montcalm as this week’s guest blogger who talks of school stress and how to help your children cope!
We have all heard the words at one time or another in life- “Stress is a good thing. It serves a purpose. It helps you get things done.” Well, if you have a child who stresses regularly about school then you may be wondering where is the good in all of this. And what purpose is this serving for my child? And most of all, how in the world do I help my child be okay when school stressors get in the way of having a good day?
Use the ideas below to help your child and yourself develop some healthy ways to understand and deal with school related stress and to know when it’s more than a passing phase.
It’s important to help kids know that all feelings are really okay to feel especially the hard ones like fear, anger, sadness, and frustration. Connecting and validating your child’s feelings allows for a more open pathway to helping the child learn emotional regulation from you, their parent who loves them unconditionally. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson’s book, The Whole Brain Child gives parents easy to understand brain science based strategies for developing healthy emotionally balanced brains which leads to healthy better balanced daily lives. Sometimes, just sitting with your child during their struggle is what the kid needs the most. Especially, if the child is in full blow meltdown mode, then refrain from using “talk” problem solving strategies until the storm has passed because their ability to to logically process is not available to them until the brain resets from the emotional stressor. Siegel refers to this as connecting right brain to right brain to provide support and understanding of the child’s feelings.
Once there’s a state of calm, move on to simple connection sentences that fit the situation. An example could be, “It makes you mad when math doesn’t make sense,” or, “Subtraction can be confusing,”. Now, it can be hard at times to validate feelings when the stressor makes no sense to us as the parent. For example, the child who is crying and upset because they can’t draw a tree for each season showing what it would look like in that season. Yes, this is a real homework dilemma. So what’s a parent to do? Identify and validate the feelings, make the connection to the right side of the brain that deals with emotions/creativity/experiences because once the right side calms down then it’s ready to play with the left side brain of logic. “This assignment is really hard for you. It’s frustrating that the trees don’t look like you want them to look.Tell me how you would like it to be.” And wait for the child to lead on what to do next.
Once, the emotional flood of the stress inducing crisis subsides it’s important to teach your child different ways of viewing difficulties in school. Set aside a few minutes each day to practice one of these activities to build up confidence and understanding.
Children’s literature is a natural place to find characters who children relate to in familiar situations like school, home and friendships. Now, some of the characters might not be human, but kids really do not care if it’s a happy pig or sad bunny or even a silly dinosaur. Kids are looking for shared common experiences in stories. Listed below are four books that I have found helpful when working with stressed out kids and their parents:
Wilma Jean does worry and stress about everything at school. Julia Cook writes awesome stories for kids, parents and educators to help children develop self-awareness and coping skills. Parent and educator note and tips in the back.
Leo is doing what Leo needs to do, but it’s different than the other animals in his class.This is a classic story of how we all develop at our own speed with support, love and understanding.
Pout-Pout struggles through his first day of school until he finds that help is available. This story is great for practice in turning those negative self talk statements into positive declarations.
I love this book!! Even when we think that we can’t draw a masterpiece, we can still start with a dot and see where it leads. This story focuses on taking the risk, going for it and putting the pencil on the paper even when it’s hard.
Stress by definition is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. The seasonal tree drawing assignment was last month, so why is my child still stressing about science homework? The keys word is circumstances because circumstances can and do change. But what if your child continues to stress out about school situations, expectations, grades, friends, math, reading and pe and music and art class and lunch. Lunch is a huge one because the menu could change which is a problem when you really want pizza, but now the choice is corn dogs. Stress can move into worry and anxiety when it becomes daily, debilitating and life changing for the child and family.
Listed below are recommendations for engaging school personnel and getting help for your child at any time during the school year.
One of the great things about a school year is the cyclical nature of time; there’s always a beginning, middle and end to each academic year. It’s like a giant 9-10 month project that can be broken down into manageable pieces with different experiences, different people and different opportunities all leading to completion. School related stress is one of those experiences that can sometimes occurs during this long project, but it can be addressed, explored and supported. Parents, take heart you are helping finish this project. At times serving as the senior project manager while other times stepping into a more supportive assistant role as your child grows, matures and takes the lead at their own speed. Remember, it takes time to be a kid.
Resources and References
Sharon Montcalm, LPC, CSC
Ms. Montcalm is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified School Counselor and Owner of Kid Time Counseling in Denton ,TX where she happily serves kids, families and educators. Sharon spent sixteen years working as a public school counselor experiencing school days with students ages 4 to 18. It takes time to be a kid. www.kidtimecounseling.com
Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at firstname.lastname@example.org
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