5 Ways Parents Can Help Their Students Cope with Stress

Stress isn’t just for the old. Stress isn’t just for the young. Stress is for everybody. That sounds like the start of a bad 90s song but that doesn’t make those three statements any less true. Kids nowadays have a lot going on in their lives: homework, high-stakes exams, and the constant social media pressure to be “somebody.” This combined pressure can take a toll and sometimes our pre-teens may need our help managing stressful situations. Here’s what a family dentist in Buxton, Maine, recommends parents do to help their kids cope with school stress.

1. Start with a casual observation.

Few pre-teens will reach out to their parents to talk about what’s bothering them and ask for help. One simple way to get them talking is to tell your child when you notice a change in their behavior. But don’t make it sound like an accusation. You can say something like, “I feel like you’re still upset about getting a B on your English test, would you like to talk about it?” That way you start with a casual observation and express interest in discussing what’s on their mind. If you’re having a hard time starting a verbal conversation, try writing instead. Get a journal for the two of you where your child can write about what’s going on in their life, and what they’re having a hard time dealing with at school.

2. Let them talk.

Sometimes a simple direct approach of asking your middle schooler, “How was your day? Learn anything interesting? Did you have fun at (insert after-school activity here)?” can prompt them to open up to you. Take the time to listen to your pre-teen. Be caring and empathetic. Allow them to feel that their concerns and feelings have been heard. And as much as possible, try not to give any advice too quickly. Research suggests that parental protection can at times be counterproductive. Let your pre-teen work through their emotions as they tell you what’s troubling them.

3. Show you understand.

After your middle schooler opens up to you and you get to know what’s bothering them, the next step is to show them that you understand what they’re going through. This can be as simple as saying, “Failing that test must have been upsetting.” Or “Not getting picked for the part must have seemed unfair to you.” Feeling understood is important to your child, particularly during stressful times. It’s your way of letting them know that you care, you understand, and you love them unconditionally. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed to help your middle schooler’s frustrations melt away.

4. Manage negative self-talk.

It’s normal for pre-teens to respond to stressful situations in their lives with over generalization or catastrophic thinking. You’ll notice this when they say things like, “If I fail this algebra test, my life is ruined,” or “Teachers at this new school aren’t nice to me. No one likes me.” In such cases, you’ll need to not only show you understand your child’s emotions but also help your child manage this negative self-talk. Ask your child to really think about whether what they said is true. Encourage them to reframe their self-talk to more positive statements, such as, “Algebra is challenging for me, but I’ll work on it every day so I can get better at it.” Once your child starts looking at difficult challenges this way, they will gain confidence in their abilities and develop resilience to stress.

5. Practice problem-solving.

When it comes to brainstorming possible solutions to a specific problem that’s causing stress at school, do more listening than talking with your child. Try to contribute only open-ended questions to the conversation. Allowing your pre-teen to do most of the problem-solving themselves goes a long way in building confidence in their abilities. Your child may come up with solutions like getting after-school algebra tutoring or dropping one after-school activity to make time for a new interest. Help your child think through both the positive and the negative consequences of each idea. You can ask, “How do you think this will work?”

School stress and its impact on teeth.

Teeth grinding is a common effect of stress in pre-teens. Studies have found that 5% to 50% of children clench their jaws and grind their teeth at night, and around a third of children with bruxism go on to suffer from it as adults. Buying a one-size-fits-all nightguard can prevent wear and tear on the teeth but it won’t resolve the grinding itself or alleviate the stress behind it. If you suspect your child is grinding their teeth at night or if you have any questions about bruxism, schedule an appointment with us. Our qualified family dentist in Buxton, Maine, can properly diagnose the situation and recommend a treatment plan to meet your child’s unique needs.