Helping Kids Deal with School Stress

On the best of days, modern life is filled with ordinary stressful challenges. On the worst of days, it’s fraught with incomprehensible tragedy.

Whether your child is exposed to the news of yet another school shooting, is entering a transition year — such as going to kindergarten, middle school, or high school — or is just nervous about starting a new school year, it’s more important than ever to support them with coping skills.

Kate Parker, LCSW, vice president of clinical operations at Mental Health Partners advises parents to empower kids so they’re able to make decisions and have a sense of control.

“Stress is a natural part of life. It’s important to help us survive and be resilient,” she says.

But when the stress becomes chronic, it can harm our health and well-being.

According to a 2020 American Psychological Association survey of more than 1,000 teens between 13 and 17, 43 percent said their stress levels have increased over the past two years.

“Kids have felt disempowered and that things are out of their control,” Parker says. “Parents need to give kids positive coping strategies that help them manage their stress and anxiety. It’s important to have space to talk through it, to talk about their feelings and experiences, and to hear what their stress and anxiety are. It’s important to remind them of the things that you’ve witnessed them using in the past that have helped them cope.

“When we talk about preparing kids and how parents can help it’s about giving kids a sense of psychological safety. It’s working on building their sense of confidence and competence to empower them to make decisions. By doing that in an authentic fashion, kids can gain a sense of control,” Parker says.

She adds that younger kids in transition also need confidence to help them feel in control. Providing a routine helps them know what to expect.

Boulder mother Rohini Grace did exactly that when her sensitive child transitioned from preschool to first grade. “We had a strong routine in the morning so that she could count on the process. My heart hurt to see her cry at drop-off those first few weeks but with regularity and rhythm to her mornings, she soon knew what to expect and was running to be the first one at the door and see her new friends and say hi to her teacher,” Grace says.

“My best advice is to love, be patient, kind and understanding, but also firm. Create a rhythm and routine so that even if it’s a challenging morning, your child knows what to expect. The structure becomes a blanket of security which helps mitigate their stress. And make sure your child gets enough rest. Sleep is essential to their well-being and happiness,” she says.

Parker adds that it’s important for parents of teens and younger children to focus on and identify the strengths that kids bring to the table. “Our role is to encourage and model positive coping strategies as we watch and react to the world because
our kids are always watching us. It helps build resilience,” she says.

Mental Health Partners is the only organization providing comprehensive mental health services to residents of Boulder and Broomfield counties regardless of their ability to pay. For more information about anxiety outreach programs for teens and children, and one on-on-one assessment and counseling, call 303.443.8500 or visit: 24/7 Crisis Line: 1.844.493.8255.

By Barbra Cohn for Raised in the Rockies