May 25th, 2019

Working to reduce student stress

By Submitted Article on December 5, 2018.

According to Statistics Canada, 23 per cent of people over the age of 15 report that most days are “quite a bit” or “extremely” stressful and this number continues to increase well into adulthood. These same statistics and issues are also apparent in almost every grade level in schools.

Data collected in many jurisdictions from the “Our Schools Survey,” which is completed by students in grades four to 12, indicate high anxiety levels throughout our region and across Canada. This, coupled with evidence of increased caseloads from school counsellors and other professionals, indicate an increase in mental health concerns or wellness issues in schools.

Schools can play an important role in reducing or increasing student stress. Some anxiety in a student’s life can be healthy, but schools filled with stress are not acceptable to anyone. There is nothing wrong when students face a little pressure, feel nervous over an assignment, or have to deal with expectations of parents and teachers. We all feel pressure, but over the last decade, the pressures to succeed have increased dramatically. With the global job market filled with uncertainty and entrance into post-secondary placement becoming more competitive, students feel the pressure to perform at ever-higher levels and at a younger age. Among the many steps that schools can take in support of students are creating positive school cultures, where staff and students have strong interpersonal relationships, and explicitly teaching social-emotional learning.

Parents can also support their children in reducing stress, and that starts with understanding the reasons for the escalation. Knowing what is causing a child stress at school is the first step toward helping him or her overcome it. For many students, the traditional causes of stress or anxiety may be test taking; too much homework; work overload; public speaking; a lack of sleep; no down time; or lack of personal time. For others, it may come from unrealistic expectations found on social media; high self or adult expectations; fear of failure; or a fear of letting someone down.

Knowing how to better manage school stressors supports stronger mental health, which allows students to perform to their fullest potential. Other steps parents can take to support their child with stress management include maintaining open communication and keeping an eye out for signs of stress. Talking to teachers, doctors, counsellors, and even a psychologist when necessary, is also important. Setting realistic expectations, nurturing children’s strengths and providing opportunities for relaxation and down time help alleviate tension and reduce stress. Letting children know that it is OK to fail and that we can learn from our mistakes is also key to helping students remove some of the pressures from their lives.

We all want our children and students to be successful academically, but we also want them to be happy and contribute greatly to our society in their own ways. Supporting our children to learn, try new things, make mistakes, try again and grow up to be healthy individuals is as important in their development as getting great grades in school. A key message to all of our young people: “it is OK to ask for help!”

Dave Driscoll is Superintendent of Schools for Palliser Regional Schools

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