Stress and burnout in children – Recognising the signs and coping strategies

Stress and burnout in children – Recognising the signs and coping strategies

Are your kids' stress levels over the exams getting to a dangerous point of burnout? Our partners from EduMatters share some tips on helping kids deal with stress.

Stress is a normal experience in daily life, and a certain amount of stress can be helpful in getting things done or improving motivation. However, there are times when the level of stress could go beyond one’s personal threshold, and stress begins to have a negative impact on the individual’s ability to function in day-to-day life.

The exam period can be a challenging time for both parents and their children. Many parents have reported that they themselves get anxious or stressed out when their kids are having exams, as they are concerned about their child’s readiness or performance for the examinations.

But did you know that this stressful atmosphere can lead to a burnout in your kids?

Early signs of burnout to look out for

In general, behaviours that your child is displaying that are substantially different from usual are worth being looked at more closely, particularly if they can’t be explained by medical causes or other stressful life events that your child has recently experienced.

It is not uncommon for children and teenagers to find it difficult to verbalise their stress. Therefore, noticing any changes in their behaviour could be a useful indicator whether or not your child is coping or burning out.

stress in children

Stress in children: Do your kids seem pre-occupied with worries over exam stress?

The following are signs that your child might show, which may suggest that he/ she is burning out:

  • Irritability/anger, restlessness, being on edge, extreme mood swings, sudden crying spells.
  • Pre-occupied with worries, can’t stop worrying. Some children might repeatedly say statements such as “The exam is next week”, “What if I don’t do well”, “I can’t cope”; or repeatedly ask his or her parents for the date, how many days more to a paper, etc.
  • More frequent than usual reassurance seeking from parents, teachers, tutors, or any other adults who know the child.
  • Younger children may become more clingy than usual.
  • Withdrawing from activities that usually would give them pleasure.
  • Constantly critical of self, insist on doing things “perfect”.
  • Changes in sleeping (e.g. unable to sleep or requiring more sleep than usual) and/or eating habits (e.g. loss of appetite or binging behaviours).
  • Bad hygiene/ overly meticulous with hygiene.
stress in children

Changes in sleeping habits may also be a sign of stress in children.

  • Peer relationships affected, withdrawal from social interaction with peers/others.
  • For younger children, temper tantrums when faced with revision. Both children and teenagers may also procrastinate whilst attempting revision (e.g. spending an extended amount of time at the computer in order to avoid revision, then becoming emotional after realising examinations are close; frequently getting up from the table to visit the toilet, getting a drink or snack from the kitchen, attempting to divert attention from the work by engaging another in a conversation or play, etc).
  • Difficulty concentrating in school, drop in school grades.
  • School refusal
  • Having an on-going difficulty with getting motivated.
  • Experiencing mental blocks
  • Physical complaints that can’t be explained medically (e.g. migraine, stomach-aches, diarrhoea, indigestion complaints, etc).
  • For younger children and occasionally teenagers, nightmares and bed-wetting.

Find out how to help your kids manage stress on the next page…

Parents: Manage YOUR stress levels first
stress in children

Attempt to manage YOUR stress levels first, so that you’ll be in a better position to help your kids.

Before helping your child to cope with their stress, it is important for parents to manage their own stress. If parents model healthy ways of dealing with stress, their children are more likely to do the same. Parents should remember to:

  • Take care of themselves and other relationships.
  • Take time out to relax.
  • Find support from other family members or friends if they feel overwhelmed.
  • Pursue their own interest that does not need to involve their children.
How to help your kids manage stress
stress in children

Give your kids short study breaks to allow them to do things that they love.

  • Make sure your child gets enough sleep.
  • Good nutrition
  • Keep usual household routines as much as possible.
  • Allow down-time for your child to relax, play and interact with his/ her friends.
  • Keep expectations realistic, and refrain from comparing your child’s grades with those of his/ her siblings or peers.
  • Provide unconditional support to your child regardless of grades.
  • Allow your child time to talk about his or her difficulties with you, and come up with strategies (e.g. time scheduling, engaging in a relaxing activity together, etc) collaboratively whenever possible. Give lots of encouragement for effort observed.
  • Provide your child with a conducive environment for revisions, such as a room that’s clutter-free, quiet and with appropriate lighting.

Do you have other tips to help kids manage exam stress? Share them with us by leaving a comment below!

Article written by Pamela See (Th!nk Psychological Services) for EduMatters.

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