From the October 2019 issue

Coping With School Stress

Paulina Multhaupt, a psychologist with Shelby Pediatric Associates and Child Lung Center, breaks down common stressors and offers stress management advice.

Homework, extracurricular activities, social interactions and more – the school year presents several stressors. Whether your child is in first, fifth or 10th grade, he is likely experiencing some form of school-year stress.

As a limited licensed psychologist with Shelby Pediatric Associates and Child Lung Center and a mom of two sons, Paulina Multhaupt is no stranger to the struggles that students face throughout the school year.

There are a few factors that come into play, she says, including new people, schedules and challenges.

“First of all, there’s new people. Whether it’s new students, whether it’s new teachers, any time we are presented with a new group of people, that can create stress or worry,” Multhaupt says. “When we know how our day is, our stress is far lower. However, (with) new schools that usually means new structure and new schedules and not knowing can sometimes create stress for people.”

Along with each school year comes a new set of challenges and students aren’t always sure what to expect, which causes stress and anxiety for kids in preschool all the way through to college.

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So how can you help your child cope with school stress – and what can you do if he is already feeling the impact of it? Here, Multhaupt offers insight.

Social stress

Social media can negatively impact a child’s mental health. “Now with social media, all these kids know when they are being excluded on something,” she says. “When your child doesn’t get invited, that hurts.”

Other students and even teachers can cause additional stress for your child. In this case, “I think it’s really, really important for parents to validate that child’s concerns and educate,” she suggests.

Recognize the issue and give your child the tools to help them deal with it. Role playing is one way parents can educate kids so they can have some dialogue when they are ready to face that friend, for example.

With teens, the only way to know their struggles is to check in with them on a regular basis, she says.

Stress prevention

“Prevention is our first line of defense,” Multhaupt says, and in this case, establishing a routine and getting enough rest are keys to reducing stress.

“By October, we should be into a groove,” she says. “Parents have to be the ones establishing that new schedule and new routine.”

In her house, Multhaupt gives her youngest son about 30 minutes to relax after he gets home from school. That time to decompress and reset is integral in keeping a child’s stress level down.

“They can get a snack, they can change into pajamas,” she says, or draw, watch some television – whatever works for your child. “That routine brings some kind of relaxation.”

Once they’ve had that time to relax, then kids can start to unpack their backpacks and organize themselves a bit. And from there, your child can begin homework.

“For the older kids, after they’ve had decompression time, when they are doing homework, I think it’s really important for parents to enforce brain breaks,” she adds.

For example, if a high school student is studying for an AP test, after about an hour or so, offer him a 10-minute break. That downtime not only reduces stress, but it increases learning, she says.

Additional attention

“Unmanaged and chronic stress that is not addressed or is not known about can negatively impact school work and social relationships,” Multhaupt says.

If you notice a decrease in your child’s grades or a change in his behavior or sleep patterns, he could be struggling to cope with day-to-day stress.

To help your child manage stress at home, Multhaupt suggests exercising. Take your kids for a walk, throw a ball around the backyard, play frisbee or do yoga together. “Whatever it is, get some exercise.”

If things still aren’t getting better, she suggests talking to your child’s pediatrician, teachers or counselor – or even scheduling an appointment with a therapist.

“There are times when our stress gets beyond our coping,” she says, and it’s OK and normal to seek assistance from those around you.

Remember to adjust your own expectations of your child and to take some time for self-reflection.

“We want parents to self-reflect and see if any of our behaviors are somehow inadvertently creating unnecessary stress,” Multhaupt adds.

Model stress management, too. It’s OK to be stressed as a parent but be more mindful of how you’re dealing with that stress.

For more information on Shelby Pediatric Associates and Child Lung Center, visit shelbypediatricassociates.com.

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