Stressed out kids

Stressed out kids

As the end of 2016 approaches so too does the end of the school year, and for matric students, the conclusion of their schooling career. Exams can bring a lot of stress and anxiety. We chat to counselling psychologist Rakhi Beekrum about how to help kids cope.

Can you give us a brief explanation of the kind of stress that students feel as they head towards their final exams for the year?

Stress is an inevitable part of life and, at any given time, our stress levels lie somewhere on a continuum between very minimal and excessive. We need a fair degree of stress to motivate us to reach our goals. The increase in stress helps propel us to work harder, but too much of stress can have the opposite effect.

Excessive worry about not passing or not achieving good results may cause students to lose sleep, which can impact their concentration and performance. When students struggle to remember they can enter a state of panic. Panic attacks are quite common during exams. The types of stress depends on the student. Hard-working students often have self-imposed high-standards which causes stress. Some parents have high expectations of their children by comparing them to others, or criticising them if they do not live up to expectations. Some students, who have not worked hard all year, may panic as the exams are their final bid to cram the year’s work into a few weeks. Personal trauma may also distract them from studies.


How can parents help to reduce or manage this stress for their kids?
Open channels of communication are essential. Ask your children how you can help. Ensure that their work is up-to-date, and that they understand everything they have been taught. Ensure that your child gets sufficient sleep and eats a nutritious, balanced diet. Physical activity is also important. Encourage your children by focusing on their strengths and helping them build on their weaknesses. Remember that all children have unique strengths and not everyone is an academic. Encourage your children to perform to the best of their ability and ensure that they have a conducive environment in which they can study. Encourage relaxation activities and ensure that your children do not burn out while studying.


What are other possible triggers for stress in younger children?
Some of the most common triggers for stress in younger children include major life transitions such as divorce and loss of a parent. Domestic conflict and substance abuse in the home can also lead to feelings of insecurity, stress and depression in children. Bullying is another significant cause of stress amongst younger children.


What are the warning signs that parents should look out for?
Changes in behavioural patterns are usually key signs. In younger children you might notice complaints of tummy aches or headaches (often to avoid school). Withdrawal, insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much), tantrums/acting-out, a decreased appetite and sometimes school refusal. Do not ignore any unusual behaviour pattern.


How can parents help their kids deal or manage depression?
Talk to your child about their feelings. Assure them that you care and that you will find solutions together. Depression is a serious health concern and can lead to self-harm. It’s safest to get professional help.


Do you have any other tips or advice?

Remember that children learn from what you do, not from what you say. It’s important that you manage stress in your own life and always use positive language when addressing your children: words are very powerful! Make time to communicate with your children on a daily basis. Have technology-free time at home! By listening to your children, you will know what is going on in their lives and communicate the message that they are important.

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