Children, like adults, can and do experience stress. In fact, children can begin to feel stressed as early as preschool. And, while they may face a range of stressors - like social pressures, world news or family issues - academic pressure is the most common source of stress among children ages 8-17 years old.
Stress has adverse effects on children’s brains, and it’s particularly dangerous in early development. It negatively impacts their academic achievement, health and social-emotional growth.
Without adequate stress management skills, they will have difficulty concentrating, following directions and rebounding from failure and disappointment, often leading to problems into adulthood. By teaching coping strategies, we can help students manage their stress effectively and reduce its harmful effects.
Signs and Behaviors of Stressed Students
It’s not always easy to recognize stress in students. Younger students may not even realize they are experiencing stress, and therefore can’t tell anyone when something feels “off.” Instead, they will show certain behaviors and signs that are typical responses to stress. Below are a few red flags to watch for in young students via Understood.org.
Stressed students may:
- Report body pain, tiredness, headaches or stomach aches.
- Become clingy or revert back to baby ways, such as sucking their thumb.
- Refuse to do class- or homework. They might appear “checked out” or “frozen” by the fear of failure.
- Experience a change in energy level (more or less).
- Have tantrums with no particular trigger.
Stress Management Strategies for Students
No matter the culprit, stress is an unavoidable part of life. Incorporate the following stress management strategies into your program to help students cope with pressure and anxiety from school, home and beyond:
- Mindfulness teaches students to focus on their present experiences, to avoid reactive and impulsive choices and to examine their circumstances with curiosity and acceptance. Particularly effective with adolescents, mindfulness is a powerful tool for restoring emotional balance and decreasing stress.
- Yoga is a combination of poses and deep breathing exercises that are proven to reduce stress, as well as improve self-esteem and boost grades. Eight to 10 minutes each day, educators can lead students through various poses, like cat-cow and downward-facing dog, to help them relieve stress after school.
- Guided relaxation allows students to use their imaginations to reduce stress. Help students imagine themselves in a calm, peaceful setting, such as a beach or their favorite room. Describe the scene using different sensory details to make it vivid in their minds. They should feel more relaxed by the end of the exercise. Visit Green Child Magazine for guided relaxation scripts.
- Physical activity benefits students’ mental and physical health. A recent study found a link between higher levels of physical activity and lower levels of stress. Engage students in fun games, like animal charades or freeze dance, to help them shake off stress!
- Peer sharing, or co-listening, gives students the opportunity to share thoughts and feelings within a safe and structured activity. Have students find a partner, and one student will talk while the other listens. They can share their feelings, worries and concerns, and students will switch roles after 2-3 minutes. Check out the full peer sharing activity.
Stress negatively impacts students’ academic achievement, physical health and social-emotional growth. Educators can incorporate these five stress management techniques into their program to help students deal with pressures now and throughout their lives.