Getting used to new teachers, new classmates and new subject matter can put a lot of pressure on kids at the beginning of the year.
Students aren’t always forthcoming about problems they’re having in school. The reasons why kids stay silent about it are many and varied: The child may be afraid of letting the parent down, they may be ashamed or too scared to ask for help, or they may be in denial and hoping against hope that the situation will magically improve before report cards come out.
If your child isn’t using words to tell you they’re having trouble in school, there are other telling signs, the most significant of which is increased stress levels. Here are a few of the warning signs of stress in kids, and what you can do to help them through it.
Withdrawal from daily activities or interactions with others. When kids (when people of any age) feel stress one of the first and most common reactions is to retreat. Fear makes us take a step back. Kids in particular will retreat into video games, television, books, or any number of other distractions. If you notice that your child is suddenly quiet, reserved, or uncommunicative, it could be a sign of stress.
Trouble concentrating. Stress is distracting. Even in adults, high stress levels prevent someone from focusing on the task at hand. What this means is that falling behind in one subject may eventually lead to a child falling behind in ALL subjects. Stress and schoolwork can quickly snowball from a small, single problem to an overwhelming one for kids.
Trouble sleeping. Even adults know that one of the first signs of imbalance in life is disrupted sleep patterns. In children this can encompass everything from insomnia to oversleeping, from nightmares to bedwetting. Often, simply getting to the root of the problem and teaching your child coping mechanisms can help, as can instituting a predictable and calming bedtime schedule.
Unexplained illness. The body is in a delicate balance, and many kids who have extreme stress in their lives will experience stomach trouble, headaches, or even breakout in rashes. We want to make clear that your first step in this situation should always be to call your doctor, but if there is no clear cause of illness, ask your doctor if stress could be a factor.
Increased aggression or anxiety. Acting (or reacting) in an unusually aggressive or anxious manner is a common sign of stress, usually caused by feelings of helplessness—even when those feelings of helplessness originate in completely unrelated area of their lives. (Increased aggression or anxiety can result in harm to the child themselves or harm to others; if you notice signs of this contact a teacher or doctor as soon as possible.)
What You Can Do To Help
The most important thing to do is help your child feel safe, even in the face of outside stress. Engage with your child in non-confrontational ways. Ask questions and keep a healthy flow of conversation going. Encourage them to continue with familiar routines. Listening without criticizing will help them feel that they’re in a safe space.
The next step is to identify and address the root cause of the stress. If you can get a clear idea of what may be causing the stress you can take steps to help your child feel safe and confident in that area of their lives. Do they need homework help? Do they get anxious when taking tests? Or does their stress have to do with something else such as bullying from other kids?
We always recommend talking to your child’s teacher, or principal. You are a partner with your child's educational leaders, its always beneficial if you can work together to determine the issue, and jointly develop a plan to help your child. If the cause of stress is academic, reach out to tutors or experts who can help your student overcome these hurdles. Evaluate your after school routine. Does your child have time to work on homework? Do they have a distraction-free space to sit and concentrate? Do they have resources to consult with when they have a question or trouble with a concept?
Finally, untreated stress and anxiety can have a lasting impact on a child, so don’t be afraid to consult with a doctor about your concerns.
The sooner parents can recognize the signs of stress in their child and take positive action to help resolve that stress, the sooner the whole family can move forward with peace and confidence and in good health!