While childhood may be seen as a happy-go-lucky affair, a recent OnePoll survey revealed those in primary education are almost as stressed over exams as GCSE pupils, with a third of parents worrying about their little ones’ stress levels.
It’s an issue the Duchess of Cambridge highlighted in a speech on Monday, marking the start of Children’s Mental Health Week: “Whether we are school leaders, teachers, support staff or parents, we each have a crucial role to play,” she said.
So where is all the pressure coming from? Children in the UK sit SATs aged seven and again aged 11 in English, maths and science – plus additional Common Entrance exams if applying for a grammar or private school. What’s more, children are now being scored, marked and grouped by ability from the age of four.
We spoke to Katy Roberts, Managing Director and Co-Founder of The Behaviourists for some tips on what to do if you think your child might be at risk…
Read Between The Lines
Stress can be difficult to spot in children, as many little ones don’t know how to communicate what they’re feeling. As a parent, you’re probably familiar with your child’s behaviour and habits, so look out for changes – particularly in appetite or the onset of headaches, stomach aches, nightmares or bed wetting; if any of these come on suddenly or start to happen more frequently, it could be an indicator your child is stressed.
Listen To What Your Child Is Telling You
It’s always important to be an ear for your children’s thoughts – try to make sure they feel able talking to you. “Make sure they know you love them for who they are, not what they can achieve,” says Roberts. If you think you might know what’s causing them to feel worried or stressed, try approaching the topic objectively or make a causal observation.
Avoid Adding Extra Pressure
While homework is likely to be a compulsory part of your child’s education, if you suspect your child is stressed it might help to cut back on the extras like additional tutoring or competitive sport practices for the time being – especially if you think they might be more a source of tension than enjoyment.
Don’t Point Blame
It’s important not to make your child think they’re at fault or have done something wrong by feeling stressed. At the same time, outwardly criticising their school or teachers could cause confusion, lead to bad behaviour in class, or make your child worry they’ve somehow got their school into trouble. Instead, focus on helping them find a solution.
Take It Seriously
Your child’s worries might seem trivial in the grand scheme of things or compared to your own adult concerns, but it’s important not to brush them off or assume they’ll blow over. Of course, they might, but not taking your child’s concerns seriously could hinder their trust and stop them coming to you with problems in the future.
Teach Them Relaxation Techniques
Clue yourself up on tools or games that help with relaxation and easing anxiety. “Visualisation [whereby you counter your stress by mentally picturing calming images] is particularly good as no one needs to know you’re doing it,” points out Roberts.
Make Sure They Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is an age-old cure for many problems and stress is no exception. While we adults are well-versed in the benefits of getting our 40 winks, it’s important to promote this to our children – particular those who favour another bedtime story, watching a film or sitting up with the adults over getting an early night.
Seek Additional Support
If you’re certain your child’s stress is a school-based issue, work together with the school to find a way forward – they might look to refer your child for additional support, so try to be open to this. If you think it’s something else, consider booking an appointment with your family GP to seek support from a professional angle. Remember: stress effects many of us at some point – often during periods of change – but younger ones might need a bit of help to recognise it in themselves.