The pressures of academics and competitive exams can induce anxiety and lead to other mental health issues in students. Hence the need to focus on stress management in children.
“Stress is essential, it boosts performance. But when it affects the performance and other daily activities, that stress is an issue”, said child psychologist and counsellor Poorva Ranade at ‘Get Set, Grow!’, Happiest Health children’s summit held recently in Bangalore.
Unmanageable stress affects mental well-being
Dr Ranade explains, “A child’s life experiences are limited and so are the verbal and non-verbal skills to express the experience of stress.” Children, especially adolescents, struggle the most with stress management.
Expectations have a strong role to play in this, says Mahesh Yadav, academic head, south india, Allen Career Institute, Bangalore. He adds, “Peers, parents or teachers influence these expectations. When these expectations are not met, the child is stressed.”
Treat the stressors, not the symptoms
Experts pointed out how adolescence is marked by a host of physiological and biological changes. Amidst these changes, academics, especially competitive exams, can further infuse stress in the child, affecting the mental well-being. “It is important for parents to identify that most often, stress is the root cause of anger, defiance, insomnia or sleep disturbances, and other behavioral manifestations in your child,” describes Ranade. She suggests, “It is important to tackle the root cause of stress, not the symptoms alone.”
Agreeing with her, Neeraj Kumar, CEO and founder of PeakMind said that parents must understand that the child’s mental well-being is crucial. “Helping the child manage their mental well-being is not an overnight phenomenon,” points out Kumar. He added that stress management must be inculcated through formal education.
Open the door for communication
Kumar also points out, the shift in the family dynamics to nuclear is a contributing factor. “Most children have issues communicating with parents, these issues must be sorted through open and healthy discussions,” he adds. This requires parents to create a safe and empathetic environment for a child, explains Kumar in the background of recent Kota conundrums, where stress during preparation for entrance exams is linked with self-harming behaviour and anxiety among students. “Kids are more receptive to feedback, more than parents or teachers,” he added.
Homesickness can be a major issue and parents should be the strong support system the child relies on, explains Kumar, talking about the situation where some adolescents are away from home for studies.
Let your child play
Mentioning that children spend more than eight hours everyday in studies, Yadav said that they hardly have ‘the Me time’ for themselves to rejuvenate, unwind and play.
“Most importantly, your child must have some play time every day. This can boost the neurons in the brain for better stress management and academic performance,” Yadav said.
Put yourself in his/her shoes
The biggest reason for conflict is when parents do not put in enough effort to understand the issues of adolescents. Experts say that parents need to unlearn and relearn certain preconceptions and opinions, especially about mental health and other aspects of life. Kumar advises parents to deal with stress management in children in the following ways:
- Set healthy expectations about your child and train them to do the same.
- Seek help from career counsellors when needed.
- Make space for open, honest and healthy discussions with children that can open a healthy space and strengthen the bond too.
- Discuss budget and money issues with the child about the fee of a certain institute and related issues.
- Be supportive and understanding.
- Ask your child to go through a psychometric test which will help them understand the strengths, weaknesses.
The deeply skewed curve
With a number of children wanting to get into engineering and medical professions, parents are not the only ones to blame, says Kumar. He says, “expose children to various vocations, and openly discuss the nuances.
Parents must help the child in stress management and understand the larger benefits of these competitive exams. “Celebrating failure and teaching what failure means is crucial in managing stress,” explains Yadav. According to Kumar, “It’s not what you say but how you say is what helps students to manage stress.”
- Competitive exams and academic pressure can induce serious mental pressure among children.
- Parents are not the only ones to blame, society also influences children to choose their professions.
- Be a strong support system when you send your child away for academic pursuits. Set healthy expectations about your child’s capabilities. Train the child in stress management.