Usually, when a pupil says they are stressed, we immediately associate it as something negative that causes them to feel overwhelmed, anxious, or even depressed. But, this Stress Awareness Month, it is important to recognise that stress isn’t always a bad thing.
It is normal for pupils to encounter stress at different periods throughout the academic year. Some stress can help children rise to different challenges, stay motivated, build confidence, and solve problems.
What causes children to feel stressed in the classroom?
- Upcoming Tests – Children often worry about achieving good marks in assessments and this is not just a feeling reserved for pupils who struggle. Often, high achieving pupils experience a lot of stress in the run up to assessments.
- Homework – Children can easily become overwhelmed or frustrated when it comes to completing homework tasks on time.
- Workload – Heavy workload can be a common cause of stress for lots of students, especially as they get older and are required to study more.
- Poor Sleep – Little sleep makes it difficult for pupils to concentrate, learn and perform to the best of their abilities which can lead to feelings of stress.
- Participation – Some children experience stress when it comes to participating or speaking in class. This is particularly common when children struggle in a specific subject area.
- Transition – Whether it is starting a new school, changing year groups or changing teachers, change can be stressful for pupils, and it can takt time for them to adjust.
As teachers and parents, it is important to recognise the difference between good and bad stress so we can better support children in developing the resilience and effective buffer systems they need to overcome the challenges they face.
Eustress – ‘Good stress’ is what motivates children, keeps them productive and helps them to feel fulfilled.
Distress – ‘Bad stress’ can cause children to feel anxious, out of control and even depressed.
What are the signs of bad stress?
- Changes in behaviour – Children can sometimes struggle to express their feelings and stress can cause sudden behavioural changes where children become short tempered and argumentative.
- Changes in sleeping patterns - Children experiencing bad stress can often struggle to get to sleep at night and consequently complain they are feeling tired most of the time.
- Changes in diet – Bad stress can cause children to both lose their appetite or eat too much in comparison to usual.
- Physical Symptoms – When stressed children often experience headaches or stomach-aches and make more frequent visits to the school nurse’s office.
- Changes in attitude – Procrastination is a common symptom of bad stress and children can often drop the ball or neglect some of their normal responsibilities.
When children feel secure and supported, they are often better able to handle the challenges they face. It is, therefore, important that we create safe school environments which foster confidence and security in pupils. There are also some simple strategies you can implement to reduce stress in the classroom
What are the main ways to manage stress?
- Exercise. Physical activity is a fantastic stress reliver for children. It reduces the level of stress hormones in the body and increased the chemicals that boost mood and counter pain. There are simple ways you can incorporate activities into your classroom practice; a game of ‘Simon Says’, a classroom stroll, movement songs, role plays and more. Simply taking a break and going outside can help calm children and shift focus away from their worries.
- Give positive feedback. Praise is one of the simplest and easiest ways to lift spirts in the classroom. Whether written, verbal, public or private, positive feedback can encourage productivity and engagement, as well as reduce feelings of stress or anxiety.
- Set realistic expectations. Pupils need to set reachable academic goals for themselves where they do not get discouraged and understand that their expectations need to be realistic. When pupils meet their goals, you should take time to celebrate their achievements together.
- Talk openly about stress and anxiety. Children who understand that anxiety and stress are normal emotions are less likely to feel overwhelmed when facing challenges in the classroom. By talking openly about stress, you can encourage children to support each other and understand how to deal with stress emotions.
As well as implementing strategies to manage stress in the classroom, it is also important to fully understand the experiences of your pupils so that you can better tailor interventions and support to their specific needs. With the largest repository of research-based wellbeing surveys, our digital platform can quickly give you a powerful insight into stress levels amongst pupils, staff, and parents/careers. You can view all the surveys in our Stress and Anxiety category, many of which are available for FREE in paper-format - Here
These surveys include The Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), which is the most widely used psychological instrument for measuring young people's perception of stress and The Spence Children's Anxiety Scale, which is one of the most popular and widely used questionnaires for measuring the frequency and intensity of anxiety symptoms in children and adolescents.