Stress. A small little word with a sizable impact. Scientifically, stress is a natural response to circumstances that require attention. The right amount of it ensures that we work towards a goal and serves as a reminder of what we hold important. Of course, we know that too much of any one thing turns the tables and ceases to be productive. As we approach the end of the year, students at CDNIS might start to feel some stress over assessments and final exams. Here are a few ways you can notice if your child might be feeling overwhelmed, and what you can do to alleviate the pressure.
Possible signs of stress:
Irritability and mood swings
We will not rule out that irritability can be a part of adolescence. However, you know your child best. If suddenly, a simple question of “how was school today” is met with an abnormal response of frustration, this may at least warrant a further exploration after they have gotten to rest and wind down from a long day at school. Similarly, if there is a big response from a small request, this can be an indicator of something below the surface. For example, you tell your son about a family dinner that will take up Saturday evening and you’re met with an explosion that he can’t handle this right now because he just doesn’t have enough time and he refuses to go.
Changes in behaviour
Again, I refer to you as the parent, what is the usual behaviour of your child? If they have always loved (insert any activity here), and are suddenly too tired to do this activity, this could be a symptom of feeling overstressed. Other changes could be a change in appetite and eating, or a slipping of overall hygiene. Sleep is another indicator that deserves its own section.
There are so many reasons our teenagers are having trouble sleeping. Sometimes it is tied to screen time and the lack of a proper bed-time routine. Other common causes are a lack of physical activity or a habit of longer afternoon naps. Many times though, students describe their experience of lying in bed wanting to sleep, but going over their long to-do list. Regardless of why your child is having trouble sleeping, it is an issue that must be addressed.
Does your child complain about constant stomach aches or headaches? While a medical doctor can examine any genuine underlying condition, this can also be a psychosomatic symptom where the body is affected by internal worry or stress.
We often talk to students about letting go of the things we cannot control, and focusing on what we can. Here are a few things you can be mindful of if you are noticing your child might be stressed.
Model stress/emotional management
It is no secret that our children learn from observing us. If your child sees that when you are under pressure, you take a mindful minute, or go for a walk, or disconnect from your devices, they will take the cue that keeping their feelings inside is not a helpful option. It is okay if you have an emotional reaction during a stressful time (we have all done it before!) but the importance lies in your willingness to discuss it as a family afterwards. This sets a foundation for how we deal with issues.
Something that was recently covered in our Parenting Teenagers course that Mr. Tim Woo and I run at CDNIS, is the acronym H.A.L.T – are you/they hungry, angry, lonely, or tired? These basic questions can be the underlying factor for us and our children’s emotional dysregulation. Remembering your child or teenager might be feeling lonely or tired during these pandemic times should help you to approach their stressful times with an idea of where to focus your care. Studying for 5 hours non stop is actually counterproductive because your brain is tired. Encourage your child to take breaks and have a snack. If they want to chat with a friend because they’re feeling lonely, that is okay too. They just need to literally halt and examine what they need at that moment and you can guide that.
Combat negative thinking
Does your child sound like their own worst critic? There always seems to be someone in class who is doing “so much better” or another friend where math is “just easy for them.” It is natural to hear this and reply with, “That’s not true” or “Don’t think like that.” Unfortunately, your child may perceive this as something you’re supposed to say, and feel invalidated or dismissed. By no means should you agree with them! But this is their way of opening up and seeking comfort, and they might just want you to listen to them because there’s no one else they can admit this to. I often suggest to parents to give their teenager the choice by asking, “Is this something you just want to talk about, or would you like to see if I can help with anything?” It’s really really hard for parents to not automatically want to problem solve for their child, and depending on the situation, you may need to step in. But it is always good for your growing young person to have the opportunity to solve it first. After they talk about their negative thoughts or worries, you might want to remind them of examples when they did persevere or improve. When they are engaging in narrow thinking, you can listen and help them expand their view.
This one is so complicated, yet so simple. You might have an older child that believes they can make their own decisions now and sleep when they want. I have worked with many families around this issue, and the bottom line is that even for our older children, you are the adult and you set the boundaries of which they can negotiate within. We know that lack of sleep leaves us tired, unable to focus, and also affects our working memory. Therefore, there is every reason to make sleep a priority. How this will look will depend on your situation, my suggestion would be to start with making sure devices are away from the bedroom. Contact your child’s designated friendly guidance counsellor if you want further support.
Take a second look at their schedule
This will not apply to every one and it is ultimately you and your child’s decision what extracurricular activities they take part in. I include this strategy because I do hear from the occasional student that their stress and exhaustion is compounded by having to eat dinner in the car following after-school activities and having little energy left for homework once they get home. While CDNIS students are generally very well-balanced, pulling back on some activities when you know final exams are coming up might lead to a very grateful teenager!
Reminders of expectations
Though every assessment may seem earth-shattering and life-changing for a stressed out young person, we know this is not the case and we have to remind them this is so. When we put the value on learning, improving, and giving our best efforts, the pressure to obtain a certain mark will hopefully lessen. In the context of what school has been like in the last two years, I think that CDNIS students have shown a lot of resilience. This, in itself, is already something to celebrate. Remind your child that it is okay if for some reason, they don’t do as well as they’d like. The only expectation is that they try their best. Your response to their final report card sets the stage for what is to come, I hope it will be a very valuable conversation that is focused on growth and development.