Are we stressing out our kids?
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Watch for these signs of distress in a student
In young children:
- Thumb sucking
- Hair twirling
- Difficulty leaving parents
In children of all ages:
- Changes in eating habits
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Feelings of sadness on a daily basis for more than two weeks at a time
- Signs of self-mutilation, such as wearing long sleeves all the time
- Talk of suicide, even in a joking way
- Trouble breathing
- Reluctance to go to school or to scheduled activities
- Persistent fatigue
- Trouble completing homework on a regular basis
- Behavioral changes, such as mood swings or acting out
- Trouble concentrating
- Defying authority
- Marijuana, alcohol or prescription drug use
By Marian Wilde , GreatSchools Staff
Strategies for schools
- Examine the testing, homework and final exam policies
- Stop publishing the honor roll in newspapers
- Stop listing where kids are going to college in community newspapers and in graduation ceremonies
- Look at teaching and assessment policies
One school, Needham High School in Needham, Massachusetts, created a Stress Reduction Committee after Principal Paul Richards attended a Stressed-Out Students conference at Stanford University.
In January 2008, the committee issued an report encouraging parents to help by advocating for a "mastery goal approach" to high school rather than a "performance goal approach, focused on high grades and admission to a name-brand college."
The report advised the school to "minimize any hypocritical practices that contribute to high stress, e.g., non-coordinated testing schedules, excessive homework and ranking students."
These actions, and more, have been taken at Needham High School as of January 2008:
- Teachers participated in a professional development day on stress and wellness
- Stress management workshops were held for juniors and sophomores
- Articles about stress appeared in the student newspaper
- A stress survey was taken by the student body in February 2006
The committee identified many more actions to be taken. These include:
- Develop a Web site with a list of resources about stress
- Communicate best practices to reduce stress
- Revise the school's homework policy
- Create a column about stress in the student newspaper
Finding the right level of stress
Parents need to set rules for their children that enforce moderation. They must strive to keep time free for family meals and activities.
Driving children from one activity to another, day after day, while cramming homework into whatever time is left over, teaches children to over schedule themselves. On the other hand, if parents have personal goals for themselves — that they can realistically achieve — are comfortable with their own stress levels, and know how to relax, then their children will grow up learning to do the same.
These are the signs that a student has a healthy level of stress:
- She is excited about learning.
- He doesn't feel that he needs to cheat to get ahead.
- She feels healthy.
- He feels he is determining his own future.