By, Josue Cortes, MD FAAP
For parents, pediatricians, or anyone else who plays a part in caring for children and adolescents, end-of-the-school-year stress is a familiar subject. Whether your child is in elementary school, middle school, or high school, the months of April and May are filled with many activities that can cause anxiety for everyone involved, even when the activities are enjoyable.
As we all know, a certain level of stress is needed in order to function successfully in our everyday lives; however, if that stress reaches and crosses a certain point, then it works against us by interfering with our mental health, our productivity, and our overall happiness and well-being. This is well-depicted on the following graph.
HOW CAN YOU TELL NORMAL STRESS FROM ABNORMAL STRESS?
If your child mentions being anxious or stressed, yet he/she is able to perform everyday activities and is generally happy while doing them, then the child is likely to be on the positive side of the curve and has not reached an unhealthy point. However, if you start noticing that your son or daughter is unable to perform daily activities or presents signs of emotional distress such as crying, excessive irritability, inability to sleep, and lack of appetite, then it’s time to recognize that he/she has reached an unhealthy point and needs help in handling things in a better, healthier way.
WHAT NOT TO DO
In these instances, “tough love” may not be the answer. Telling your child to “snap out of it,” “grow up,” or any other expression of disapproval is not likely to help and could actually make things worse. Certainly no one enjoys being stressed-out or anxious, so remember that if your child could will himself to feel better, then he would already be doing it!
THEN WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?
- Talk to your child and ask specifically what is bothering her. It may be that the solution is as easy as helping her finish a projector giving reassurance about her abilities to perform in a specific situation.
- Talk to the teachers. Often times they know what the problem may be and can offer some practical advice. Many schools also have counselors who are trained and skilled in dealing with these issues.
- Children and adolescents get stressed easily when they feel pressured because “everything has to be done by a certain time.” Simplifying things by dividing jobs into smaller tasks and creating reasonable time tables in which to finish required assignments can make responsibilities easier to manage and decrease the child’s stress level.
- If none of this seems to work, then it may be time to get the pediatrician involved to discuss ideas he/she has about how to handle the situation. The pediatrician may also suggest visiting a counselor who can provide your child with techniques to face whatever may be going on. In more serious cases, psychiatry may also be recommended.
Life will always have stress.So, parents must be aware of signs of anxiety in their children, take steps to get them help when needed, and teach their children healthy ways of coping in stressful situations. When we help our kids learn to handle their current problems, we are also helping to shape the way they will deal with stress in the future, preparing them to be emotionally healthy adults who can successfully handle whatever comes their way.