Did you know that April is ‘Stress Awareness Month?’ As we all know stress is a normal part of life, it’s one of many emotions we experience and small amounts can motivate us to achieve our goals. However, stress can feel unmanageable, particularly for children and young people who do not have the words to explain their stress or the strategies needed to cope with these feelings. In this post, I want to focus on pupil stress and anxiety, with particular reference to signs to look out for, potential triggers and ways to help pupils manage these emotions.
Signs of stress and anxiety
Here are a few of many signs of stress and anxiety:
- Lack of concentration
- Mood swings
- Biting nails
- Not wanting to come to school/poor attendance
- Refusing to complete work/avoiding work
- Isolating themselves
- Argumentative behaviour
- Changes in appetite
- Skin conditions e.g. acne
- Complaining of headaches, stomach pains, chest pains, difficulty sleeping
- Lack of energy or motivation
- Attachment issues
- Toileting issues
Significant changes in behaviour can indicate stress and anxiety but also this could indicate something deeper so please make sure to investigate this appropriately.
(Check out Signs of Stress, Mind, https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/stress/signs-of-stress/#.XKx-huhKhPY for a more comprehensive list of indicators of stress)
- Exams ( particularity for Year 6 +)
- Transitions in school e.g. new class, year group, school,
- New people becoming a part of the pupil’s life e.g. siblings, partners etc.
- Changes in circumstances e.g. Mum losing her job, moving to a new house etc.
- Other changes in schools e.g. new teacher, new routines
- Changes in self- weight gain, going through puberty etc.
- Social Media and other online activity
- Conflict with peers
- Illness (own or family members)
These are just some general triggers, there are many possible circumstances that can cause pupil stress and anxiety. It’s a good idea if you notice a pupil suffering from stress and anxiety to take note of when this seems at its worst. The pupil may be unsure what is causing this, so keeping a record (as well as communicating with parents/carers) may help you identify the trigger.
- Give them the words to explain
This can be done as whole class teaching; all children need the emotional vocabulary to express how they feel
- Ask them what would help?
They may find this difficult at first but working together to solve the problem is much more powerful than you decided for them what they need
- Help them to help themselves
This follows on from the last point, help pupils find their own coping strategies to empower them
- Offer a quiet, calm space in the classroom
Don’t underestimate how important a space like this is for your pupils’ wellbeing.
- Encourage pupils to talk about how they feel to stop them from bottling up their feelings
Talking about your worries helps you start to manage them
- Be pre-emptive
If changes are coming up that you expect could cause stress and anxiety in pupils e.g. leaving school, SATs etc., help them prepare for this, with opportunities to ask questions and find out information
- Communicate with parents
If you notice a pupil is stressed or anxious, speak to their parent/carer about it to help find the triggers
- Share strategies
When speaking with parents/guardians come up with shared strategies for supporting the pupil with their stress or anxiety
- Give pupils opportunities to exercise regularly and spend time outside
A healthy lifestyle is an important part of reducing stress and anxiety
- Make a worry bin
Model writing worries on a bit of paper and throwing it away. Writing down a worry can help you be more logical in the way you respond to it and ‘throwing that worry away’ can give you some relief. Explain to pupils though that they can always talk to you about their worries especially if they have lots of questions. (NB The worry bin should be used more for little day to day worries rather than significant changes.)
5 things to remember:
- Look out for the signs
- Find the triggers
- Give them the words to explain and time to talk
- Communicate with parents/carers
- Help them to help themselves
Anxiety in Children (NHS): https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/anxiety-in-children/
April is Stress Awareness Month (Education Blog- NetSupport DNA): http://www.netsupportdna.com/education/blogdetail.asp?id=2436
How to deal with stress (NHS): https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/understanding-stress/
Exam stress and pressure (Childline): https://www.childline.org.uk/info-advice/school-college-and-work/school-college/exam-stress/