STRESSED OUT KIDS AT SCHOOL The headline promises, ‘Michael Gove, Education Secretary, has raised the possibility of longer school hours and shorter holidays.’ “Hooray,” you would expect parents to yell, “no more kids getting under our feet,” but what about the kids? Has anyone asked how the kids feel about working longer hours than any average child in Europe? In a world in which stress is a part of daily life, from keeping your boss happy, to keeping your partner happy, to keeping yourself happy, the demands are enormous and it’s often a stressful balancing act to keep everyone happy. Are politicians adding to the nation’s stress by targeting the youngest, whether it’s out of a genuine desire to improve their lives or more cynically to churn out more automotive slaves, the consequences are clear, kids will be more stressed than ever before. Stress on the rise My seven year old daughter went to sleep crying last night because she was scared about the art lesson the next day. Her fears centered on the teacher, who didn’t explain the frame-work of the lesson enough, which left my daughter feeling unsure of what to do. We all want to perform to the best of our ability and we all want to impress our peers around us. This applies even more to children, than adults. It starts as soon as kindergarten, with competitive play, which then turns the joy of learning into a struggle to excel. Excel in exams, friendship and keeping the teachers happy. Whether we are for them or against them, exams and the pressure to perform at school, creates considerable stress for our children. Compounded with sugary sweets and high energy drinks, isn’t it any wonder the idea of keeping our kids at school from 9am to 6 pm is attractive? It can be overwhelming Our kids are put in a position of feeling they just must not stop. Perform, perform, and perform. From learning ten French words for a test two days later, to reading three books by Friday, to completing 20 sums, to learning your seven times table. It’s relentless and can be overwhelming. More and more often they are put in an environment where they are not accepted for themselves but only for what they are going to achieve. All this builds stress. You are not really truly alive without Stress “Stress itself is not a bad thing,” says many a stress expert, they’ve even got a name for it called ‘Eustress.’ Being challenged makes you learn new skills to meet that challenge and keeps you on your toes, ready to jump over any hurdles thrown your way. So while stress can be healthy in manageable doses, too much stress can stifle development, ignite fear and incapacitate our kids. Smile in the face of fear and watch it disappear As parents we all have a duty to build our child’s motivation and prepare them for their lives ahead. But shouldn’t we be installing the pride in them for achieving a goal, rather than offering them ever more pocket money to achieve a goal? If we teach our kids only to perform for monetary reward, we may be shooting ourselves in the foot, because it makes them into the type of person who goes to work just for the money, and complain all day while doing it. We are looking in the mirror at our Shadow-Self It’s just not fair for parents to demand higher standards for their kids than they themselves face. We sometimes have to get off our high perch and remember sustained excellence is simply not natural. It’s not how we, ourselves, operate, so we mustn’t expect it from our kids. Six tips to help your child’s stress and anxiety at school Encourage your child to smile in the face of their fears, and watch it disappear My daughter explained the situation to her teacher and as a result the teacher takes an extra moment to check my daughter knows what she’s supposed to do. Now her fear has disappeared. It’s natural to avoid situations that we are afraid of. However, avoidance of anxiety-provoking situations maintains the anxiety. The solution is supporting our children to face their fears and the child will learn that fear is often a mirage. Tell your child that it is okay to be imperfect We drive our kids to succeed in sports, school, and performance. But sometimes we forget that children need to be children. Life isn’t always driven by grades, but instead by enjoyment. It’s important to reduce stress in our children by allowing them to embrace their childish mistakes and imperfections. Give your children the time to relax and have fun Often, even fun activities, like sports, can become more about success than they are about fun. It’s important to ensure children engage in play purely for the sake of fun and not expectation. Allow them to play with their toys, play a game, play a sport (without it being competitive), do exercise, paint, have a party, put on a play, or just be silly. Lead by example Whether we like it or not, our children copy us down to the finest details, be it good or bad. Our children do what we do. So if we avoid stressful situations, so will our children. If we face our fears, so will our children. If we take care of ourselves and schedule time for our own needs, our children will learn to do the same. If we look for the positive in situations, so will they. It’s true, our children learn behaviours from watching their parents. Reward your child’s hidden hero If your child faces their fears, reward this with praise, a hug, your time or even something tangible like a sticker or a new toy they’ve been badgering you for. Don’t think of it as bribery, think of it as motivation. If we reward brave behaviour, our children will be brave more often and as a result handle the stress which they face on a daily basis. Get them in bed early, for a good night’s sleep Set a bed time for your child and stick to it. Allow them 10 minutes to read a book, or draw a picture. This gives them the breathing space to settle down at their own speed and wash away the day’s stress in their own way. Only by letting the day’s stress ebb away, will they achieve that relaxed state of mind, to send them off to sleep and away to dream land, to wake up refreshed and ready to do it all again. Mike Fisher from the British Association of Anger Management (BAAM) wants to hear from you. To learn more about stress and how it affects our children, check out BAAM. With nearly 30 years of experience in the field of anger and stress management, you won’t get better information from anywhere else. You can contact the team at BAAM by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone on 0345 1300 286. Open from Monday-Friday 9am-5pm they are happy to answer any questions you may have. Alternatively check out these websites for more practical advice on beating stress and anger. www.angermanage.co.uk, www.stressexperts.co.uk and www.beatinganger.com.