As program providers, it can be hard to imagine that students actually experience stress. They seem to live simple, carefree lives without the burden of adult responsibilities like work or bills.
But your students do have worries and stress to some degree. In fact, childhood stress has increased in the past few decades, with nearly 40% of children reporting that they worry too much.
There are numerous reasons students may experience stress. In most cases, stress is caused by:
- School (academic performance, social pressures, bullying, etc.),
- Family (divorce, financial problems, parental stress, etc.),
- Media (news of crime, natural disasters, etc.) and
- Environmental dangers (general fear of strangers, burglars and street violence).
Unfortunately, many students may not even realize they are feeling stress, and therefore can’t manage it properly once it hits.
In this activity, students demonstrate and discuss feelings related to stress. They’ll discuss how reactions to an event can influence the body (represented by a balloon). Students will also have the opportunity to talk about how stressful feelings build up in their bodies and cause harm if not expressed appropriately.
- 4 balloons: white, red, yellow and green
Begin the activity by discussing the concept of stress with students. To provide a generic definition, stress is the discomfort we feel when our lives are moving in direction A when we would rather be moving in direction B.
Explain the different ways in which we may experience stress, such as demands placed on us by ourselves, families, teachers and coaches. Try to use factors that are relevant to your students’ lives to help them make a real-life connection. Finally, help students understand how to identify good and bad feelings, where stress comes from and ways to manage their stress.
- Clear enough space so students can stand in a circle in the center of the classroom.
- Blow up the white balloon until it is very full and knot it. Pass the balloon around the circle and ask the students, “How do we need to handle the balloon?” (Here’s an answer: Carefully, because it could pop.) Then ask them what would happen if you put more air in it.
- Take the red balloon and blow it up until it bursts. (Or pop the balloon discreetly with a tack once it’s blown to capacity.)
- Ask the students why the balloon popped: “Did I put too much air in it?” Discuss how air is like stress; if there is too much, the balloon breaks and can’t be fixed.
- Take the yellow balloon and blow some air in it. Do not tie the balloon. Ask students about what causes them to be stressed. With every answer, fill the balloon with another breath. After it is inflated, ask them what kinds of activities make them feel good and happy. With each answer, let some air out, demonstrating that they have some control over stress.
- Let the balloon go and watch it go out of control. Ask students what may cause them to go out of control and discuss the appropriateness of this behavior. Perhaps discuss how they need to exert control over or manage their own stress so they don’t go out of control.
- Take the green balloon and blow it up to a point where it can be played with - not too much air, not too little air. The green balloon is a forgiving and resilient balloon. Ask the students how they can be more like the green balloon. (Suggested answers are exercise; play with friends; talk to their parents, teachers and coaches.
End the activity with a group discussion. You may ask students to identify which color balloon best represents them and why. You can also ask them if they could change colors, which one would it be. If time permits, students can draw pictures or write a story to further demonstrate their understanding.
It’s important for students to be able to identify feelings related to stress, its causes and age-appropriate ways to manage it. For fun ways to help students identify and manage their feelings, check out this set of Emotion Stones or try this Make a Mood Magnetic Activity.
This activity was adapted from Healthy Breaks: Wellness Activities for the Classroom.