By Kim Norton
When parents and teachers work together to identify and implement stress management strategies for our kids, it not only improves the general wellbeing and quality of life for that student, but also for that of the teacher, fellow classmates and family members.
The first step is to identify what stress looks like in our kids. From there, triggers or stressors can be identified and suitable strategies put in place to manage them via a Stress Management Action Plan.
Regular, open communication between the teacher and parent/carer will see this Stress M.A.P come to life, a plan that can be adapted as the individual matures and shared with other teachers, relevant support staff and family members.
So, what can stress look like in our students?
1. Nail Biting / Nail Picking.
2. Withdrawing from activities.
Not wanting to participate in activities or socialising with friends as they once did.
3. Stomach Aches.
More than the usual number of stomach aches with no medical reasons.
4. Hair twirling/pulling.
Some of our kids will pull out strands of hair, eyebrows and/or eyelashes when stressed.
5. Irritability and anger.
Sudden or more frequent bouts of irritability or anger.
6. Acting out.
Acting like the “class clown” or going out of their way to distract other students.
7. Lack of concentration and focus.
8. Not eating.
Refusing to eat either a snack or lunch.
Frequent headaches that are reported to have no medical explanation.
10. Excess Fidgeting.
Spending more time than is considered necessary on one piece of work or part thereof to make sure it is “perfect”.
Avoiding tasks, certain classes or school events that will cause stress like trying out for the school choir even though they love to sing at home and can sing quite well.
13. Loss of confidence.
14. Clinginess or separation anxiety.
Clinging to a parent or specific teachers.
15. School Refusal.
Parents/Carers having trouble getting the student to school and/or the student has a high absence rate.
What Can You Do?
Observe and listen. A child will not always be able to say, “I am stressed”. Look for signs as already mentioned, observe their body language and listen to what they have to say. Statements like “I don’t feel well” or “I have a sore stomach” or when a child is continually apologising this can often be code for “I am stressed”.
Once symptoms have been identified, develop an action plan.
Stress M.A.P. (Management Action Plan).
Developing a Stress M.A.P or Management Action Plan in conjunction with the family/school and any specialists, can provide our kids with the tools necessary to manage their own stress, develop resilience and generally improve their quality of life. Some stressors or triggers are unavoidable like a school test, so empowering our kids with the tools needed to manage their stress as soon as symptoms arise can prove invaluable in ensuring good mental health and general well-being.
1. Know the symptoms.
Help your child understand how their stress makes them think, act and feel. Often they feel it in their body eg: fast heartbeat, tapping foot, tense shoulders, tics etc.
2. Pinpoint the initial symptom.
What is the very first response to the stressor eg: fast heartbeat.
3. Identify Triggers/Stressors.
Can include: Lack of sleep, parental divorce, nightmares, speaking in front of the class, negative thoughts, death in the family, upcoming tests. It is imperative that teachers and parents share this information with each other.
4. Investigate Suitable Strategies that will Combat that Trigger.
Breaking out into a spot of Yoga in the middle of the classroom is not always a suitable strategy, but, visual cues, frequent movement breaks, and fidget tools just might be. Teachers and parents can discuss here what works best at home/school.
5. Implement Strategies at the Initial symptom (not at full meltdown stage).
Can include: breathing exercises, hand mudras, visualisations, a good bedtime routine, mindfulness and meditation.
6. Evaluate at regular intervals
Symptoms are likely to change as the individual matures and faces new triggers like NAPLAN or puberty so it makes sense that strategies will have to be modified as well.
If you are struggling with the development of a stress management plan for yourself or for your child/student, please seek guidance from a professional Counsellor or Psychologist.