Is Your Stress Rubbing Off On Your Kids?

This is what I have looked like for the past few weeks. Except not that pretty.

Stress is a reality of life. A little of it can be good. A lot of it for long periods of time, not so much.

I was recently interviewed for a story about how our stress affects our kids over at WebMD. The bad news is that our kids (and our partners and pets) definitely pick up on our stress. The good news is that there’s quite a bit we can do about it. Check it out:

Here’s a tip:

Here’s the whole article:

WebMD: How Does Your Stress Affect Your Kids?

Standardized Tests – How to Help Kids Cope With the Pressure

Are standardized tests in the news in your community?  It seems to be what everyone is talking about around here.  Federal and state-mandated standardized tests are given to almost all students in grades K-12 in the spring, as far as I can understand.  I am not an expert in primary education, standardized testing or curriculum development so I can’t speak about the tests from that angle.  But, I am an expert in anxiety and parenting and have a few thoughts about how testing affects those sorts of things.

I have watched standardized testing season come and go (as a psychologist and mom) for over a decade now.  And here’s the thing: they cause A LOT of anxiety, worry and nervous feelings all the way around.  In parents, in students, in teachers in administrators – probably bus drivers and custodians too – everyone’s feeling the tension.  It’s almost impossible to escape.

Here are some ideas for managing the testing season in your home:

  • Keep your routine normal.  Kids thrive on routine.  Chances are their school days will look a little different during testing season (different class schedules, dismissal times, etc) so it becomes even more important that routines remain the same at home.  Try to keep normal bedtimes, mealtimes and activities going on as usual.
  • Resist the urge to talk about testing.  Your kids – whether in 1st or 11th grade – have likely been hearing about their standardized tests for weeks as teachers prepare them for what to expect.  When they get home they might need a break from all the hype.  A simple: “How did the test go today?” is likely all you need to ask about it.  Grilling our kids, ranting about the philosophical flaws of their school system or putting extra pressure on them to perform academically is rarely helpful.  Keep it light and give them a break.
  • Teach stress management skills.  Life is full of stressors.  Mastering a couple stress management strategies in childhood can be a wonderful thing.  If your child is a little stressed on test days, consider using the opportunity to teach him some basic stress management strategies: Take deep breaths; visual a soothing, restful place; Go on a bike ride or walk.

The vast majority of kids (and parents!) make it through testing season just fine and chances are you (and I!) will, too.  If you are concerned that your child’s worry seems more intense than normal, or it doesn’t resolve after the tests are over, you might consider meeting with a psychologist.  Read more about whether therapy is needed here.

*This post first published March 2015*

High School Pressure and Glee

Photo by Glee on Fox

Wow.  A lot of potential blog topics were presented on last night’s Glee episode, Asian F.  The one that stuck with me was how they portrayed the pressure the seniors in the New Directions are under.  Pressure to make their mark at school, pressure to find out who they really are, pressure to get accepted into the best college, pressure to pick a career path.  Watching Rachel, Kurt, Finn, and Brittany struggle with these issues brought up memories of my own senior stressors.  Ugh…it wasn’t pretty.

So how can you assist the high schoolers in your life keep things in perspective?

Focus on relationships.  In last night’s episode, Kurt reminded us that it’s not all about accomplishments, but that friendships and treating folks right is important too.  Making and keeping friends, building relationships with mentors, and learning how to successfully interact with others is a crucial part of high school – even though you won’t earn a grade.

There are multiple ways to get there.  Have a child who yearns to be a singer?  Let her know that there are lots of ways to make that happen.  Enrolling in a music conservatory, majoring in music at the local college, or simply singing in the church choir are all ways to incorporate music into her life.  The idea that she HAS to get into one school or program in order to achieve her dreams is a good way to reach stress overload.

Life is long.  Luckily, most of us live fairly long lives.  This means that we have plenty of time to make mistakes, try lots of things, and change our minds a time or two.  Very few 17 year olds know what they want to do with their lives, and that’s OK!  Try to maintain a sense of adventure and openness with your children rather than forcing them to make decisions before it’s developmentally or emotionally appropriate.

Don’t get too attached.  It’s easy as a parent to become attached to ideas our children bring up.  Your son mentions he would like to be a doctor and you assume that will be his reality.  But remember, his job is to change his mind and try out new ideas.  Go with the flow and don’t cling to any idea too hard.  It will drive you both crazy.

Do you know a high school senior frantically trying to bulk up their credentials to get into college?  Know any who are struggling to figure out who they are and what’s important to them?  How do you help them cope?