We have previously covered three key principles to help your child succeed in school and in life, and tiny acts that go a long way in guiding your child’s habits and behaviour. For the third part of these series, we will talk about stress – understanding and managing it. We hope that this would be useful with PSLE around the corner! First, we look at what is stress, how does it come about and how it affects your child
What is stress and how does it happen?
Today, we often refer to stress loosely when we feel angry, overwhelmed, tired, fatigued, or troubled. Some see stress as something presented to us, such as a demanding or threatening event or situation (e.g., examinations, complex tasks, and interviews). Others see stress as our body’s responses to those demanding or threatening situations (e.g., increased physiological arousal, heart rate, sweating).
A useful perspective is to see stress as a process in which an individual perceives and responds to events that he appraises as overwhelming or threatening to himself. Importantly, this means how we react to events that occur around us is determined by how we appraise or judge them. Such events can be appraised as a threat if it could lead to negative consequences, or a challenge if it carries the potential for gain or personal growth. For example, a student may appraise being appointed as the class chairperson as a threat if she believed that this could affect her studies or friendships, or as an opportunity to gain new skills and grow in character.
This appraisal is compared with the options available to cope with the event, as well as perceptions of how effective such options will be. An event would be viewed more positively if one believes something can be done about it. For example, a student who thinks “I can be a chairperson because there are teachers to guide me” versus “Oh no, I don’t have time to do all these things!” would react very differently, even though the event is the same.
Thus, stress is manageable when an event is appraised as a challenge, or appraised as a threat but there are available and effective ways to cope with the event. Stress becomes high when an event is appraised as a threat and there are little means to cope with it.
How does it affect my child?
Stress can be a positive and motivating force that improves our lives. At the appropriate levels, stress would prompt your child to take actions that would improve her situation, such as studying for exams, exercising, and listening in school. However, at high levels, stress can become draining and debilitating. Such stress would cause her to feel burned out, exhausted, and these would have negative effects on her performance and health. This relationship between stress and performance is widely known in psychology as the Yerkes-Dodson Law (see figure below).
How can we manage stress?
Think about what we have looked at so far – managing stress is not about erasing it completely! It’s about ensuring that stress levels do not become excessive, such that it crosses the optimal level. Considering how stress occurs, there are two ways this can be done – first, by reducing the likelihood an event would be seen as a threat, and second, by increasing the means to cope with an event if it is perceived as a threat! In the next part of this series, we will share some ways that are useful to help your child manage her stress!
At Polymath Learning Centre, we believe that it is important to understand stress and to be vigilant for symptoms or signs of excessive stress in your child. We feel that it is important to care for our students and not mindlessly push for them to perform well without considering their well-being. This is part of our overall approach, as we are certain that students perform best when they are in a sound state of mind - alert and challenged to improve, but not overwhelmed. Want to understand stress more or know more about our approach? Give us a call or sign up for your free trial lesson today!