We previously discussed what stress is, how it happens, and how it affects your child. As we had mentioned, stress can be a double-edged sword. At optimal levels, it can encourage action, focus attention towards important tasks and generate positive outcomes. However, it can also be debilitating or crippling when it exceeds certain levels.
Thus, the key is to manage stress so as to ensure that it stays optimal and an advantage to your child! In the final part of this series, we look into effective ways of helping your child to manage stress!
Increase familiarity to decrease anxiety!
It is natural for us to experience anxiety when we are faced with unfamiliarity, such as a new environment, new tasks or assignments, a new workplace or setting, and so on. Children experience this even more than adults, as they have less experiences to fall back on to help boost their confidence.
Unfamiliar tasks or settings generate feelings of uncertainty and a lack of control, which can lead to unhealthy thoughts such as imagining failure or the worst outcome possible. Sometimes, these can become self-fulfilling prophecies. For example, a child may come to believe that he is going to fail no matter what he does, which leads to him not putting any effort to improve, therefore causing the failure he believed in.
Building familiarity is a quick and effective measure to reduce stress. This applies to all of us, in any situation. We can help to build two main types of familiarity for children in particular – physical, and procedural. Physical familiarity can be built, for example, by visiting a new classroom before the start of a new year, or an exam hall before an actual exam. Simply knowing how the place looks and feels will help a child to feel less anxious about being in it later on. Procedural familiarity is about knowing how things will progress. For instance, it can be developed by informing your child how a lesson is generally taught, or how an exam is usually conducted, or the general structure and style of an exam paper. This helps your child feel less uncertain about what she will be presented with in those circumstances and help her to focus on the task at hand.
Enhance achievability to decrease helplessness!
Another aspect of managing stress is achievability. As we have discussed earlier, stress is manageable when a person believes that she has available and effective ways to deal with an event. However, it is elevated when she believes she has little means to cope with it. What this means is that by increasing your child’s perception that she has the ability to handle a task or event, it is less likely that she will feel overwhelmed and helpless! There are therefore two ways we can do this – by decreasing the perceived difficulty of the task, or by increasing your child’s perceptions of her own abilities.
The task can be made less difficult by breaking it down into bite-sized chunks. To explain, large and complex tasks are tremendous and can make us feel clueless about how we should even begin tackling it. However, when they are broken down to smaller components, each component can be much more manageable. For example, if your child was asked to plan a class outing, it can be a very difficult task if your child views it as a whole. However, by breaking it down into food, location, costs, entertainment, and attendance; identifying the sub-tasks to do for each component, and coming up with a timeline to complete them, each task is far more achievable and will help your child progress towards a success.
At the same time, enhancing your child’s ability, whether actual or perceived, can also help to decrease stress, as it allows your child to handle tasks that are more difficult. For studies in particular, an effective way to do this to invest in additional education! These opportunities help to further develop your child’s ability and confidence in managing their studies. Furthermore, as external education typically adopts small class sizes, they would be better placed to guide your child at an appropriate level of difficulty to fit her needs and support her main school studies. As your child develops her skills, knowledge and ability in different areas, her confidence would grow and difficult benchmarks would become more achievable and realistic to her.
Build rapport and support to decrease feelings of abandonment!
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, build rapport with and support for your child! Psychologists have long recognised the importance of close relationships for child development. As humans, forming emotional connections with others is a basic need and has extensive positive effects on our physical and mental health. On the flip side, we feel sadness and loss when we become socially isolated.
It is notable that social support is closely related to stress! In fact, social support has been described as “a social network’s provision of psychological and material resources intended to benefit an individual’s ability to cope with stress”. This means that social support enables a person to deal with a greater number or intensity of stressors, and buffers her against their negative effects. Interestingly, this is particularly so during childhood!
What do all these mean for you? In simple words, your child will feel especially stressed if she feels that she is facing a difficult task or situation all alone, with no one to help her along. If she feels that there are people around her to guide and support her, she would likely feel less overwhelmed, even if those people cannot help her in her task or situation! This begs the question – how do I build rapport with them when I also need to discipline them and push them to study? Here’s two simply ways, though there are many others.
First, you can directly ask your child if there’s anything burdening them or that they’re struggling with, and do something about it! This act alone will build support by showing that you care for and are concerned about how they are getting along. It is important that we do not stop there – we must follow up on what they share. If we cannot do anything to help with their issue, we can at least assure them that we are there to help if they need us. That in itself is a powerful act and should be sufficient to let them know that you’re supportive. If we can actually do something about it, we can go beyond providing assurance to providing or sourcing for problem-specific support. For example, if their worry is about a weak subject that they hate, personally tutoring your child or getting help from trained educators might be options for you. On a side note, if you’re doubting whether you should proactively involve yourself in your children’s education, you should know that research has shown that children whose parents get involved in their education tend to have better academic performance, higher self-esteem and are better behaved!
Second, it is helpful to simply let them know that you care for them. This is particularly useful if your child does not wish to share her problems with you. Instead of withdrawing or feeling resentful, we can understand that they may sometimes have their reasons for not sharing! In this case, we can still help by expressing our care for them through other means. For example, allowing them to take time off from studying to pursue their own interests and talking about topics other than studies will let them know that you value them as a person and not just someone who produces good exam results. Spend quality time and having fun together will build love, rapport and openness, and let them know that you are someone they can fall back on.
What we believe
We’ve discussed three ways to manage stress extensively. These are part and parcel of our teaching approach at Polymath Learning Centre. As mentioned before, we emphasize the importance of our students’ well-being, as we are certain that students perform well when they in a sound state of mind and feel cared for. We trust that by increasing familiarity, enhancing achievability and building rapport and support, we can help our students to manage stress to optimal levels and not allow demands imposed upon them to overpower them. In doing so, we will create win-win situations where our students perform well and develop positively as individuals, and on our end, our teaching becomes even more rewarding and fulfilling! If you would like to find out more about our approach, feel free to contact us for a free trial lesson today!