Stress is a normal and unavoidable part of life. Stress helps us get things done, turn up for work, study and even look after our health. Stress at appropriate levels helps student focus, block out distractions and concentrate on the task before them. Stress is not something that can or even should be avoided. However, if not managed well, stress can become overwhelming and debilitative. As parents we often wonder how we can best help our children to manage the stressors in their lives, and when they seem overwhelmed, we can wonder at what point we need to find further help. As the parent of a Year 12 student, I know how easy it is to get on the roller coaster of SAC and exam stress with our children because we want the best for them. However I also know, as a chaplain, that joining them on that roller coaster is not actually helpful, and it can even stop us from providing the support they need.
During Term 3, we had a General Practitioner, Dr J.P. Darby, come to our College’s Senior School Campus to speak to our students about stress, exams and study. The chapel was full, even though it was a non-compulsory session during lunchtime. This speaks to the fact that students want help to manage the stress in their lives, especially stress related to study and assessment tasks. So how do parents assist with this? Well, first I think we can begin by identifying what it is that is causing our children stress. Is it just related to school and assessments? Or are there other stressors in their lives? Many students have multiple stressors, many outside of the classroom that nonetheless impact them inside the classroom. Sometimes they need an outside person to talk to, a friend, a chaplain, a psychologist; someone who can listen and, where appropriate, help them better manage the source of their stress or remove it.
Having a balance of daily activities is one of the key points that JP made to the students and something that I have observed as essential in my own children’s lives, and in the lives of students I work with. While good preparation and consistent study habits are essential, life cannot be all about study – even in Year 12. Having a social life, exercising, working, playing team sports, and just generally being involved in life outside of school brings a balance and perspective that can help students see the bigger picture – not just the stress of the moment.
I speak repeatedly with students I work with, encouraging them to have things in their lives they enjoy – every day – not just on the days they struggle. This provides a protective factor, gives them something to look forward to, allows their minds to relax and buffers them during the more difficult times. Enjoying a hot drink with a friend, going out for lunch, walking, bike riding, listening to music, watching television, gaming; these things are not ‘time wasters’ (unless this is all they do!) but rather they add balance, helping your child de-stress and bring joy into their lives.
So how do we know when our child needs more help than we can provide? We know from organisations such as ‘beyondblue’ that anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. According to beyondblue, on average, one in four people will experience anxiety at some stage in their life. Anxiety is common, but the sooner people with anxiety get help, the more likely they are to recover.
Normal anxiety or stress tends to be limited in time and connected with some stressful situation or event, such as a job interview, a SAC or assessment task. The type of anxiety experienced by people with an anxiety condition is more frequent or persistent; it is not always connected to an obvious challenge and it impacts on their quality of life and day-to-day functioning. So if you notice that your child is showing signs of stress or anxiety that is disproportionate to the task, and it does not resolve once the task is completed – or it affects their ability to complete normal tasks – then it is time to seek professional advice. You may choose to have an initial conversation with a year level coordinator or a chaplain, as they may be able to help you in your assessment of whether outside help is required, or assist you in the referral process.
So, as parents we can help our children manage the stress in their lives by remaining as calm as we can in the face of their concerns (not getting on the roller coaster!). We can encourage them to prepare well, rest, do things they enjoy each day and have a life outside of school work. I bring my child cups of tea, strawberries, chocolate and a listening ear. I encourage her to walk (which she hates) and I make sure she has time with friends. We also pray each night that she might have good rest and energy for her next day. Don’t underestimate the little things you do that allow your child to feel both supported and cared for – and if you are concerned about them, then seek further help.
Senior School - Waurn Ponds
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