The Head, Bart Wielenga

Not All Stress is Bad Stress (Part 3)

Over the past two weeks I have been discussing the potential benefits of moderate stress, however I am very mindful that not all stress is beneficial and at times the stress our children face can be harmful. So how can we support our children to ensure that the stress they experience is positive and how can we help them cope when it isn’t? Below I have listed my Top Ten Tips for supporting our children in dealing with stress.

  1. Help children to identify where the stress is coming from. Quite often children will experience feelings of anxiety and stress without knowing what it is that is stressing them out. Helping them to identify what they are anxious about will enable them to take control of the situation which often alleviates much of the stress.
  2. Resting is a critical part of handling stress. Getting a proper nights’ sleep can make a huge difference. Often children’s response to being stressed about their studies is by working till the early hours. This often exacerbates the situation. Athletes will always tell you that rest and recovery is critical to allow their bodies to recover from being put under strain. Our bodies and minds are the same, we need to give ourselves a chance to recover from one dose of stress before the next one is upon us. Letting your kids flop out on the sofa isn’t always the worst thing in the world!
  3. Help children to manage their workloads. Often pupils can handle stress if it comes from one or two manageable sources. The problem comes when there are numerous sources that coincide. So a combination of a school play, exams, fallouts with friends and a driving test all happening at once may cause a minor meltdown. Help your child to decide what can wait and what must be dealt with first. This is where tutors at school are great in helping pupils to prioritise their commitments – and learn to say no when it is required.
  4. Exercise is a great release. Not only does exercise offer a good distraction from life’s troubles but the endorphins released in the body during exercise give us a feel-good factor. One thing that Blundell’s pupils should not be short of is the opportunity to get out and participate in games and activities!
  5. A positive narrative around stress. Some people automatically look at stress as an opportunity for growth and recognise that is can be a positive. Others cannot help but see all stress as being catastrophic. As adults with a bit more life experience and perspective, we can help our children by asking them to think about their stress differently and helping them to put a positive spin on things.
  6. Empower children to take control of the situation. A feeling of being overwhelmed by different demands is often a great source of stress and anxiety. Helping young people to identify the choices and trade-offs that they have before them can help them regain some control over the situation. Recognising the outcomes of the decisions they make can alleviate some of the anxiety. If a piece of prep is causing great anxiety then an option is to ask your child what the alternatives are and how you may help with the different outcomes. After having grappled with a Maths problem for 20 minutes a pupil in School House should probably stop working on it. As a parent you may ask: would you like to continue for another 5 minutes or should we stop now? If you stop now what will be the pros and cons? The child may feel that the teacher will be disappointed if they don’t complete the problem and that may be the cause of the stress. Your discussion can then be around that, rather than around the impossible Maths problem!
  7. Relaxation Techniques. There are lots of methods which help us to relax. A number of Apps are available on phones and mobile devices to help with breathing and other ideas around mindfulness. Simple things can help a young person to take stock and to get a fresh perspective.
  8. Focus on strengths. Martin Seligman, the driving force behind the positive psychology movement, has set his stall out by focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses. I think he has a good point. Quite often pupils will focus on what they can’t do or what they are not good at. Things that we find hard often drain us and take a lot of emotional energy. Doing what we’re good at or operating in our ‘sweet spot’ can be energising. Help your children understand their strengths by doing the VIA character strength assessment which can be found here (such a wonderful name for a website!)
  9. Role model handling stress. As adults – whether teachers or parents or both – we ought to be mindful of how we handle stress ourselves. The way we conduct ourselves when we are under pressure will inform our children. Whether we like it or not, they do look to us for guidance and they are more likely to watch us then they will listen to us! Speak to your children about your successes and failures in handling stress. You don’t need to be perfect but you do need to be honest!
  10. Get help. If it is all going terribly wrong do not be afraid to ask for help. In the first instance talk to us at school. Either Tutor and/or House Parent are usually good places to start but the School Counsellor is also a wonderful support. Beyond that your own GP should be able to assist and advise you. It is important that if you are concerned that you speak up.

We can easily manage if we will only take, each day, the burden appointed to it. But the load will be too heavy for us if we carry yesterday’s burden over again today, and then add the burden of the morrow before we are required to bear it.John Newton