How to reduce stress among primary school students

Primary school is full of challenges, especially for kids with learning and attention issues. Here are some tips to prevent your child from feeling stressed. (We have used a female student as an example, but the same applies to males.)

1. Help her figure out how she’s feeling

Kids with learning and attention issues might not be aware that they’re feeling stress. Try to keep your questions low-key. Drawing together is a good way to get conversation flowing. Mention you’ve noticed something has been bothering her. Help her put a name on what it might be. “Are you feeling scared about reading out loud in Ms Smith’s class?” Simply talking about feelings can be a relief.

2. Take homework apart

A whole page of word problems can seem overwhelming, especially for kids with attention issues. Break the problems down into chunks—groups of three, for example. That can make the task more manageable. Promise fun breaks in between—she can FaceTime with a friend or take the dog to the dog park. Praise her for each set she completes.

3. Help her prepare for new things

If your child is going to start a new activity, such as karate, visit ahead of time. Let her meet the receptionist at the front desk, check out the bathroom and the karate room. Ask the teacher to describe what she’ll do the first day of class. If the new activity seems familiar, your child won’t feel nearly as much anxiety about participating.

4. Celebrate even the smallest victories

Most kids feel some stress when facing a new challenge. But they eventually dive in because past success gives them confidence. Kids with learning and attention issues need that same motivation but success is often harder to come by. Watch for opportunities to praise accomplishments. It could be as simple as finishing three spelling words without giving up. Knowing what success feels like may help her feel less overwhelmed and panicked when facing bigger challenges.

5. Help her create a “can do” mantra

Suggest phrases she can repeat when facing stressful situations. “I am not afraid to try” or “I can do this” are two good examples. These thoughts will crowd out negative talk (“I’m too stupid to do this!”) and repeating the words over and over can be soothing.

 6. Make sure you have rituals and order at home

Coming home to an organised place and rituals that stay the same can give your child security after a busy day at school. When possible, stick to a routine. Maybe it’s an afternoon snack, a walk with the dog, and then homework. On days with afterschool activities, try to have a regular routine too. Create some structure for weekends as well. Too much time without a schedule can make kids unpredictable in their behaviour.

7. Blow off steam!

Stress can build up like steam in a locomotive. Give your child plenty of opportunities to release some of the pressure. Make exercise a part of everyday life for her and the whole family if possible. Show her how to jump rope or do indoor climbing. Some students like to sing or ice skate or just stay at home and do something creative.

8. Find balance with afterschool activities

For the child who struggles in school, being good at something like karate can be a big boost. Afterschool activities also give structure to the afternoons and help deal with stress. But don’t go overboard or you’ll make your child’s stress worse. Ease into activities carefully and do your best to leave some days open.

9. Be clear and reasonable about what you expect.

You may simply want her to do the best she can on spelling tests. But she may think she has to get 100%. Tell her what you actually expect—that will lessen her stress. Or, for example, you might want her to clean her room on her own. But is that big task realistic? She might need you to break it into steps or keep her company.

10. Consider outside help.

There are several specialists that deal with learning and attention difficulties. While parents can achieve a lot through behaviour management it is often necessary to seek expert advice. Initially ask your classroom teacher. However, for specific help in literacy difficulties it is important to locate a special education expert.

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