Headmaster's Blog

Five Ways to Help Students Stress Less (Part 2)

This week’s article carries on from Part 1 of last week. Three University Academics published an article on five ways parents and carers can support Year 12 students. Many of these tips are helpful for all secondary students.

3. Help them maintain connections
Connections with friends are critical for young people, especially during times of stress. Teens regularly talk about academic concerns online, and may use online support more when stressed. Research shows seeking support in person is more effective than doing so online, so try to encourage your teen to connect with friends in person if possible.

But also be aware of the risks. Talking with friends over and over about problems can actually make young people feel worse. Your son or daughter may find their friends are increasingly leaning on them for support too, which can exhaust their own emotional reserves.

Encourage your child to use time with friends as time away from studying. It’s OK to seek support from friends, but help your child think about when might be too much – and to have a balance of happy and serious conversations when they are together. Encourage your child to continue talking to you and to ask their teachers for help with academic concerns.

I include here the importance of developing and maintaining a connection and relationship with God. The knowledge that God walks with us at all times, but particularly in difficult times, can be a great comfort. Praying to him and asking for what we need is a powerful strategy.

4. Help your child understand their own brain
When asked, most young people report frequently using rehearsal – which involves simply going over textbooks, notes or other material – as a study technique. This is one of the least efficient memory strategies.

The more active the brain is when studying – by moving information around, connecting different types of information and making decisions – the more likely that information will be remembered. Active study sometimes feels harder, but this is great for memory.

5. Look out for warning signs
While most teens are resilient, some may more frequently report negative moods, uncertainties about the future or a loss of control. This is particularly true in 2020. You might hear evidence of “catastrophic thinking” (“what’s the point?” or “this is the worst thing ever”).

You can help by modelling hopeful attitudes and coping strategies. Reactive coping strategies are things like taking a break, selectively using distractions and going for a run or walk to clear your head. Pair these with proactive coping strategies, which prevent or help manage stressful situations. These include helping the young person get organised and reminding them that if they don’t have life figured out right now, that’s OK.

Help them see opportunities that come with challenges. These include self-development (learning what they like and don’t like), self-knowledge (knowing their limits and character strengths) and skill development (organisational and coping strategies).

Some teens may be struggling more than they let on. Look out for warning signs. These can include:

  • Not participating in previously enjoyed activities
  • Avoiding friends or partners
  • Drastic changes in weight, eating or sleeping
  • Irritability over minor things
  • Preoccupation with death or expressing how difficult it is to be alive.

If these behaviours occur most of the time you are with them or seem out of character, consult a mental health professional as soon as possible. This is particularly so if your teen has a history of mental health concerns.

(Mackenzie, Van Bergen, Parada – The Educator 13 Oct 2020)

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash