School Stress: 5 Effective Ways to Support Your Child

Written by Dr Lucy Russell DClinPsyc CPsychol AFBPsS
Dr Lucy Russell Clinical Psychologist Founder of They Are The Future
Author: Dr Lucy Russell, Clinical Psychologist

Watching your child struggle with school stress is incredibly tough.

As a child psychologist, I see how demanding school can be for children and teens today, and I feel sad and frustrated.

In this article, I’ll share five effective ways to support your child and reduce their school stress.

3 girls walking to school

Five Strategies for School Stress

Here are the 5 strategies we are going to look at:

  1. Balance Their Lifestyle: Help your child create a daily routine that includes time for schoolwork, rest, and fun activities.
  2. Open Communication and Collaboration: Encourage your child to share their school experiences and work with their teachers to support their needs.
  3. Teach Stress Management Techniques: Show your child different ways to calm down and handle stress.
  4. Understand and Problem Solve School Stressors: Assist your child in identifying what makes school stressful and think together about ways to make things better.
  5. Put the Stress in Context: Talk with your child about how the pressure they feel isn’t their fault and that it often comes from problems with how schools are run.

School Stress: A Brief Look at The Big Picture

School stress is a massive issue and I can see that it’s a growing one.

In the UK, about one in six children aged 5 to 16 have a mental health issue, and this number has increased by 50% in the last three years​ (The Children’s Society)​. In the USA, around 61% of middle school students feel a strong pressure to do well in their studies​ (The American Institute of Stress)​.

These statistics show how common school stress is and highlight the urgent need for effective ways to help students manage it.

Given these challenges, it’s crucial to explore practical strategies that can support our children in managing school stress effectively.

I’ve worked with children and families for over 20 years, and I’m going to share the strategies that are the most powerful in my experience.

Here are five approaches that can make a real difference.

close up of a young school girl

Strategy 1: Balance Their Lifestyle

A balanced lifestyle helps your child handle school stress by keeping their body healthy and their mind clear, making everyday challenges more manageable.

As a child psychologist, I recommend establishing a balanced lifestyle as the best option for managing school stress.

This involves creating routines around key areas: ensuring enough sleep, engaging in physical activity, maintaining a healthy diet, and enjoying social connection and family time. Here’s how to make it work:

First, it’s crucial that your child gets between 9 to 11 hours of sleep each night to avoid sleep deprivation.

A great way to help them wind down is by removing digital devices a minimum of one hour before bedtime, ensuring they get adequate sleep.

In terms of physical activity, I suggest incorporating regular exercise into your child’s routine, which could be as simple as a daily family walk or weekend sports.

Physical activity is not just good for the body; it significantly reduces stress levels.

On the nutrition front, steering clear of a poor diet and involving your child in preparing healthy meals can make a big difference.

Try to avoid processed meals and choose colourful fruits and vegetables. Opt for meals that are low in sugar and high in nutrients, which can help in maintaining energy levels and reducing stress.

If you’ve got into a habit of eating processed or poor quality meals, just start with one healthier, home-prepared meal per week and build from there.

Lastly, spending quality family time is incredibly valuable.

Whether it’s discussing new challenges over dinner or planning weekend activities together, family members spending time together can be a very good thing for reducing stress and strengthening relationships.

Of course, children need social connection with their peers too, and they may need a bit of support from you to make that happen.


Strategy 2: Open Communication and Utilize School Support

Keeping open and positive communication between you, your child, and school staff is crucial, especially during the school year when dealing with school-related stress.

It’s important to respect the challenging roles school staff have, yet ensure they fully understand your child’s feelings of stress.

Encourage your child to talk about any extreme stress and the specific challenges they face at school.

This conversation is key to problem-solving and helps them navigate stressful times more effectively.

If your child’s stress is affecting their emotional wellbeing, you may decide to talk to school about additional wellbeing support staff getting involved such as school counsellors or (in the UK) ELSAs.

These members of staff are equipped to guide young people through periods of stress and are an important part of the school’s mental health services.

If the stress persists and becomes chronic, consulting with a mental health professional or a clinical psychologist might be necessary. These experts can provide specialized support and strategies to manage the stress response more effectively.

Additionally, having one or more solid friendships at school can significantly help children manage stress. Good social relationships provide crucial emotional support and can greatly reduce the impact of chronic stress among young people.

By actively engaging with school staff and mental health services, and encouraging strong social connections, you can help your child manage stress more effectively throughout the school year.

close up of a tween boy in his classroom

Strategy 3: Teach Stress Management Techniques

Teaching your child how to manage stress effectively is vital for maintaining their emotional health, especially during the school day.

Here’s a more detailed approach using all the exact keywords:

  1. Deep Breathing: Encourage your child to use deep breathing techniques as a simple way to reduce symptoms of stress. Deep breaths help calm the mind and body by lowering cortisol levels, which are directly linked to the body’s stress response. Teach them to focus on taking slow, deep breaths whenever they start to feel the pressure build up. This can be particularly useful before exams or during stressful situations at school.
  2. Regular Exercise: Physical activity is another key component of stress management. Regular exercise helps to reduce the level of stress by lowering cortisol levels and releasing endorphins, chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers and mood elevators. Encourage your child to participate in sports or other physical activities they enjoy, whether it’s during PE classes, after school, or on weekends.
  3. Flow Activities: Introduce your child to flow activities that they can engage in during breaks or free periods at school. Flow activities are tasks that fully immerse and engage them, providing a break from the effects of stress and allowing them to recharge. If they enjoy knitting, perhaps they can bring their knitting supplies to school and work on a project during breaks. If they are passionate about dance, arranging time to practice dance routines with friends at lunch can serve as both physical activity and a powerful stress reliever.

These strategies not only help manage current stress levels but also build skills that can protect against future stress, enhancing your child’s ability to experience stress positively and maintain their emotional health.

a primary school classroom

Strategy 4: Understand and Problem Solve School Stressors

Helping your child navigate school stress effectively begins with understanding the different types of stress they may face: academic, social, sensory, and environmental.

One practical method to tackle this is the “Barriers to Thriving” exercise, which allows you to map out specific stressors and their solutions.

Here’s how you can implement this strategy:

Step 1: List All Stressors

Start by creating a list of all possible stressors your child encounters, no matter how small.

This includes challenges like academic pressures related to an upcoming test, sensory issues such as uncomfortable clothing, or social worries about making new friends.

Recognize that these stressors can vary significantly, affecting students of all ages, from younger students to high school students and young adults.

Step 2: Identify Solutions

Next to each stressor, write down a potential solution. This approach helps in finding different ways to address each specific challenge, whether it’s academic demands or environmental discomforts.

Example: Barriers to Thriving Exercise for Jamie

Imagine a fictional student, Jamie, who is a high school student experiencing various stressors. Here’s how Jamie’s “Barriers to Thriving” table might look:

Source of StressPotential Solution
Academic pressures: Upcoming testPrepare a revision timetable, practice deep breathing and relaxation techniques before the test.
Social stress: Making new friendsJoin clubs or teams where Jamie can meet peers with similar interests.
Sensory discomfort: Itchy school uniformLook for alternative clothing options made from different materials that are more comfortable.
Environmental stress: Noisy classroomUse noise-cancelling headphones during study periods, or request a seat away from noisy areas.
Test anxiety from a bad gradeReview the test with a teacher to understand mistakes, use guided imagery to boost confidence.
Overwhelmed by academic success expectationsBreak down goals into smaller, achievable tasks, celebrate small successes to build confidence.

This exercise not only addresses immediate concerns but also builds resilience and problem-solving skills, preparing them for new challenges ahead.

This proactive approach is often the best option for long-term success and satisfaction in their educational journey.

anxious little boy at a school desk

Strategy 5: Put the Stress in Context

As we go through the school year, it’s important to understand that the stress students of all ages face comes from many places.

Much stress can come from things outside their control, like today’s school setup and wider society pressures.

Here’s how I suggest you approach this so that your child doesn’t feel they are at fault in some way if they are feeling stressed.

Understanding the Source of Stress: Realize that things like peer pressure, schoolwork, and social media are not just personal challenges but are influenced by bigger societal and school systems. By recognizing this, we help our children understand that feeling stressed doesn’t mean there is something wrong with them.

Talking About External Factors: It’s good to talk openly about how outside things such as social expectations and the tough nature of school can affect their feelings. This can make the stressful situation feel easier to handle, as they see these pressures are faced by many young adults, not just them.

Changing the View: Teach your child to see these pressures not as personal failures but as challenges that many people face, which are often made worse by the current educational and social setups. This way of seeing things helps to place the stress outside themselves, showing that these feelings are normal responses to difficult situations.

This strategy helps your child face stressful times more confidently and – most importantly – with less blame on themselves.

teenage school girl looking stressed and serious

School Stress: Summary of My Five Essential Strategies

In this article, we’ve explored five effective strategies to support your child in managing school stress.

We started by looking the importance of balancing their lifestyle, ensuring they have a healthy routine that includes enough sleep, exercise, and family time.

We then discussed the value of open communication with teachers and the use of school resources to address and alleviate stress.

Teaching stress management techniques like deep breathing and recognizing flow activities also play a crucial role in helping your child cope with stress.

Then, we covered the importance of understanding and addressing various school stressors through a practical “Barriers to Thriving” exercise.

Finally, I highlighted the need to put stress into context, understanding that external factors often contribute to stress, and helping your child realize they are not alone in these experiences.

I hope it’s been helpful for you!

Related Articles

EBSA Resources For Parents: School Avoidance & Anxiety

How to Help Your Teenager Focus in School: 7 Psychologist Strategies

Getting Ready for High School: Essential Steps For Parents

Exam Anxiety in Children and Teenagers: Parent Strategies

Empowering Autistic Children: Top 10 Autism Classroom Ideas For Every Teacher and Parent to Know

Surviving Homework Struggles: A Compassionate Guide for Parents

School Friendship Issues: Your Parent Guide and Teen Workbook

Dr Lucy Russell is a UK clinical psychologist who works with children and families. Her work involves both therapeutic support and autism assessments. She is the Clinical Director of Everlief Child Psychology, and also worked in the National Health Service for many years.

In 2019 Lucy launched They Are The Future, a support website for parents of school-aged children. Through TATF Lucy is passionate about giving practical, manageable strategies to parents and children who may otherwise struggle to find the support they need.

Lucy is a mum to two teenage children. She lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband, children, rescue dog and three rescue cats. She enjoys caravanning and outdoor living, singing and musical theatre.

UK parents, looking for expert parenting advice?

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