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Things I’d Like To Tell My 12-Year-Old Self: Observations From An Educator

Things I’d Like To Tell My 12-Year-Old Self: Observations From An Educator

Times have certainly changed since my elementary school days. Granted, it was not that long ago that I was furiously memorizing times tables and MLA works cited formats. However, today’s youth is experiencing something that I didn’t recognize until my adult years: extreme stress. This year, especially, I’ve found myself repeating stress-relieving mantras to our students on a daily basis. From tears over B grades to pressures at home, my current students are slowly breaking my heart with their ever-growing worries and concerns.

Yes, I worried as a child—we all did at some point. But my students this year have been talking candidly about debilitating, sleep-interrupting, all-encompassing anxiety and stress. I’ve seen children break down in sobs, asking questions like, “How can I be better?” What I want to tell them in these moments has nothing to do with literary elements or plot diagrams. I want to tell them the same things that I wish I could tell my 12-year-old self when I felt stressed or lost.

You will not be the best at everything.

…But you don’t have to be. You will find that you are amazing at something—maybe even a few things. These are your passions—follow them, nurture them, be proud of them.

You will make mistakes.

…But your mistakes are your greatest teachers. You will learn more from your mistakes than you will from your successes. So use this knowledge and know that you will learn from your errors.

Your parents are always proud of you.

…Even when you fail, stumble, and struggle.

It’s okay to disagree with your friends.

…They are not always right, and neither are you.

People are going to be mean.

…But pay them no mind—it’s not you, it’s them.

Apologize when you mess up.

…And forgive those who apologize to you. Remember that saying sorry and being sorry are two different things—know the difference.

Life is not fair.

…So do not expect it to be. There will always be people who have more than you.

The only thing that you can control is yourself.

…Do not frustrate yourself with things beyond your control.

Trust yourself.

…You are capable of much more than you’d imagine. Take chances—you will likely surprise yourself.

Everything will be okay.

…It might not seem like it right now, but you will get through these tough times. The struggles will only make you stronger, so don’t give up.

Virtual Learning: Remind, Reassure, Reset

The struggle is real for kids right now, regardless of how academically inclined they have felt in past school years. Learning is hard. Full stop. However, virtual learning has its own learning curve in addition to the actual learning going on right now! Is your head spinning yet? Yeah, theirs are, too. Social media is helping to shed light on the issues that virtual learning is causing in homes across the country, with numerous videos demonstrating just how emotionally taxing this “new normal” has become.

However, kids need to know that this isn’t normal. Elementary-aged kids sitting in front of computer screens all day isn’t normal. Missing “school” due to connectivity issues isn’t normal. Clicking a button to virtually raise your hand icon isn’t normal. Having to rejoin class 10+ times each day because of platform glitches isn’t normal. Most importantly, NONE of this is their fault. Yet, utterly frustrated sobbing children are becoming more and more defeated every day. What’s a parent to do? Remind, reassure, and reset.

  • Remind your child that many, many aspects of virtual learning will be inherently beyond their control. These little beings are not tech wizards, and they shouldn’t be made to feel incompetent because of this.
  • Remind your child that error messages, blank downloads, broken links, etc., are not their responsibility as young learners.
  • Remind your child that every other student is also struggling. Their peers may be more comfortable with certain aspects of virtual learning; it may come more naturally to others. However, no one is innately equipped to thrive in this virtual world—it takes time.
  • Remind your child that the teachers are new to this, too. Their teachers would love to be back in the classroom interacting and exploring with them. They, too, are frustrated with the technology and expectations put on them.
  • Reassure your child that it will not always be like this—learning will return to normal. They will rejoin the brick and mortar classrooms and have a greater appreciation for in-person schooling like never before!
  • Reassure them that their teachers are on their side—that they are always rooting for student success and trying to shoulder the technology burdens whenever possible.
  • Reassure children that all of these challenges, while insanely frustrating, are helping them to become resilient. That with each unique difficulty, they’re learning patience, problem solving skills, grit/determination, creativity, and responsibility.
  • Reset the vibe in the room when things get emotional. IT IS OKAY (and necessary) to take a break and step away from the screen! Help your child reset when emotions run high:
    • Close the computer
    • Eat a snack
    • Run around the block
    • Jump on the trampoline (even a mini trampoline inside)
    • Juggle the soccer ball
    • Color in a coloring book
    • Snuggle with the family pet
    • Stretch on the floor
    • Blast some music for an out-of-control dance party—whatever you need to do to encourage a “mindset reset” when the tears start flowing.
  • Reset the negative self-talk. If you hear your child verbally beating herself up over her perceived shortcomings with virtual learning—don’t let it go unnoticed. Help her reset by reminding her of all of her strengths and talents. Tell her explicitly that any new difficulty or misstep does not negate these strengths and prior successes.

Uncertainty & Anxiety—LE Discusses Solutions

Uncertainty & Anxiety—LE Discusses Solutions

 

In addition to our own concerns, which include everything from our family’s health to the unstable economy, experts agree that children and teens are in an exceptionally vulnerable position where anxiety may arise and/or become exacerbated. This is a frightening notion for parents, and understandably so. To combat any anxious tendencies, families must first be aware of the potential for these feelings to emerge. In recognizing increased levels of stress and anxiety in kids, it is paramount that we first acknowledge and then talk through the issues at hand.

 

One important thing for parents to remember is that, once children begin to reach adolescence, their preferred soundboards shift from parents and guardians to their peers. Instead of relying on mom and dad for advice and support, kids tend to lean more on their close friends when dealing with issues. Of course, this only makes sense, due to the fact that our peers are the ones immersed in the daily strife and are experiencing the same or similar events from a familiar vantage point.

 

The teenage years are partly marked by the bonds and camaraderie that develop among peer groups. Therefore, the sudden and swift separation from those peer groups that Covid-19 has caused leaves adolescents feeling exceptionally vulnerable and lonely. Yes, technology allows for consistent contact for socializing—and today’s generation of teens is as savvy as ever. However, FaceTime, DM’s, and Zoom calls do not automatically fulfill the need and desire for close, face-to-face interactions and conversations with peers. Furthermore, the social sphere, whether that’s elementary, middle, or high school, has temporarily vanished, leaving kids suddenly yearning for their routines, daily interactions, typical schedules, and structures.

 

To help put anxious minds at ease, parents should be prepared to have several conversations:

  • Be aware of and acknowledge that the current situation is uncomfortable and unnerving. Kids need to feel validated in their feelings, so this is not the time to lead with, “suck it up,” “it’s not that bad,” or “others have it way worse than you.” Those statements, while potentially true, only serve to alienate your child further—again, they already feel lonely. They need to feel heard and understood now.
  • Encourage them to discuss and express their frustrations and listen. This is certainly a frustrating time for everyone, so children need to be provided with an outlet to express and release those anxious feelings.
  • Think about activities that allow your child to engage in physical activity while simultaneously having a discussion about what they’re experiencing and feeling. Dribbling the soccer ball, shooting hoops, even walking the dog or jumping on the trampoline can provide families with time to chat, while also releasing pent up energy and/or emotions.
  • Encourage virtual socializing among peers, being sure to agree upon outlets, expectations and time limits that are appropriate to the child’s age.
  • Think about having opportunities for groups of moms and daughters to have a virtual coffee date or discuss the latest episode of everyone’s favorite TV show.
  • Plan a virtual pizza party for young kids in the neighborhood if your youngster seems down or lonely.
  • Organize a Zoom call with karaoke to shake things up among friends or family.

 

The point is this: anxiety during this time, especially for kids and adolescents, can be overwhelming. Between hormonal changes and brain development, teens are practically primed to experience higher levels of stress as it is. Parents can help by acknowledging the difficulties, encouraging social connections, and validating their child’s emotions.

Calming Activities to Destress: For Elementary Schoolers

Finding a sense of calm is likely difficult for kids right now, no matter their age. Our world as we know it has halted. It’s been replaced by what seems like one long, continuous day where there are few happenings that distinguish today from yesterday. It is disconcerting, to say the least. For children and teens, who typically find comfort in normalcy and routines, today’s upended society is even more jarring. Stress is inevitable right now, but there are ways to address it. Read on to browse our list of therapeutic and calming activities for children and teens.

 

Stress-relieving ideas for younger children

  • Cursive writing is sadly a thing of the past—most elementary curricula do not include cursive writing or penmanship anymore. However, this downtime could be a blessing in disguise for children who are eager to learn to write in cursive. A quick Google search will provide parents with countless tracing templates, letter formation practice sheets, and lined handwriting pages for young kids to begin their work with cursive writing. Also, since cursive writing is not typically part of the elementary curriculum anymore, children won’t feel as though they are doing homework or schoolwork. Instead, they will see it as an optional “new” form of writing that they can practice as they please. Additionally, for students with various issues involving fine motor control, some parents find that cursive writing is actually easier for their child. The unbreaking, continuous movement of the pen or pencil connecting the letters is often less labor-intensive.
  • Coloring books have experienced a major revival right now, especially since people are finding themselves with more leisure time. Coloring while listening to soothing music, like instrumental Disney songs, can be a great way for youngsters to pass the time and calm their minds. Better yet, there seems to be a coloring book for every interest, hobby, character, and theme! Coloring is something that the whole family can participate in together. When finished, display your children’s work around the house to showcase their artistic accomplishments!
  • Jump roping and hula hooping are great rhythmic options for kids to embed some cardio into their day. These activities require coordination, concentration, and focus, so they are great for banishing stressful thoughts. You can also turn this practice into a challenge by setting a timer and having your child track his or her hula hoop skills! Just remember, the point of this activity is for your child to take his mind off of stressful thoughts, so if you notice him getting frustrated with the jump rope, it’s time to take a break!
  • Blow bubbles as a mindful moment to practice deep, rhythmic breathing. Bubbles are an outdoor childhood favorite. Not only will young children admire the bubbles’ colorful iridescence, but watching them slowly float away is a calming activity while enjoying some fresh air. Blowing bubbles also provides an opportunity for children to practice mindful, meditative, deep breathing, which helps to reduce stress and bring peace of mind.

Read a book or listen to an audiobook on a rocking chair or porch swing. The consistent rocking back and forth helps to ease stress and relieve tension with soothing motion. There is something comforting about listening to an engaging story while gently rocking that can help center young children if they’re feeling exceptionally distressed.

Combating Toxic Stress

As the school year progresses and we near winter break and the holidays, it is easy to get caught up in the chaos of the season. Between family visits, vacations, gift lists, and holiday parties, it is easy for educators to get wrapped up in all of the things going on outside of our classrooms.

 

In fact, we may forget that not everyone eagerly awaits these festive times—for some, the holidays are not full of happy traditions and fond memories. Even with the interventions, resources, and extra supports that schools often provide for students in need, winter break can be a lonely, uncomfortable, and emotionally trying time for students with major stressors at home. For this reason, a little extra TLC before and after the holidays may be necessary. Schools need to provide teachers with strategies for creating and maintaining a classroom environment that helps to combat toxic stress.

 

ACE’s

Adverse childhood experiences, or ACE’s, are shown to result in prolonged, unhealthy levels of stress, which doctors call toxic stress. ACE’s can include alcoholism or drug abuse in the home, homelessness, domestic violence, guardians with mental health issues, divorce, etc. These negative experiences cause stress that chemically changes the brain over time, resulting in learning difficulties, issues regulating one’s emotions, and difficulty making sound decisions.

 

In the classroom

Experts estimate that nearly 40 million American children are at risk of developing toxic stress because of ACE’s. That staggering number means that many of our classrooms include children who are struggling to learn because of circumstances at home that are completely out of their control. To reduce the negative impact of ACE’s, schools must foster a safe, nurturing environment, one that is especially acute to the needs of students battling toxic levels of stress.

 

  • By absorbing the mantra that teachers are educating “the whole child,” we can begin to develop an environment that seeks to help stabilize children’s lives beyond their grades and academics. Whether it be a teacher, coach, counselor, or administrator, students need to have a “safe adult” at school to talk to about their struggles. Showing an interest in that student’s life can be the first step to building that positive, safe relationship. By showing that we care about them, not just their grades, students begin to gain a sense of comfort, appreciation, and trust—which they may not be getting at home.
  • Allow students to take ownership over the classroom to help build a trusting, positive rapport. By providing student choice whenever possible, like choices for novel, projects, procedures, seating, etc., teachers demonstrate that the classroom is fully inclusive—everyone’s voice and opinion deserves to be heard. These inclusive practices help students see themselves as more than their stressors and unstable home life. Collaboration puts them in the driver’s seat by providing a sense of control where they might otherwise feel pushed around or victimized.
  • Set clear, predictable expectations for all children in the classroom. Students need structure, especially those whose home lives might lack structure and stability. Therefore, teachers must maintain consistency so that children know what to expect. For them, school is their safe space; it is where they know that the adults are caring, fair, trustworthy, and reliable. These are qualities that many children with toxic stress do not witness in the adults with whom they live. It’s our job to be that constant in their day-to-day lives.
  • Allow options for self-regulation by modeling appropriate responses to stress. Teachers should consider making a “calm corner” or quiet space in the room designated for cool down time so that students can have a private place to gather their thoughts when emotions run high. Teachers should also consider working out a system where students can use nonverbal cues to communicate their need for a breather. The point is to create classroom procedures that allow students to express their emotions in positive and productive ways. These strategies become habits that children can then employ outside of school when stressors run high.

Test-taking Hacks for Students

Spring has officially sprung, which means that, unfortunately for students, testing season is about to rear its ugly head. From standardized state tests, to district assessments that measure literacy and math growth, the copious amount of testing on the horizon can leave students thoroughly fatigued. One of the more daunting aspects of an assessment could be the “unknown” factor. Students are left wondering, Did I guess correctly? Was there a chance that I answered the easy ones too quickly? What if my score is terribly low, or lower than last year? As much as we educators and parents would like to ease their concerns, there is little we can do to stomp out those pervasive doubts. We can, however, ensure that students have plenty of test-taking strategies at their disposal so that, even when guessing, they can improve their odds with logic and sound reasoning.

 

Make a plan of attack

For most, a standardized test means a strictly timed assessment. The projected stopwatch on the board allows students be aware of the time as it expires. However, this countdown can also exacerbate the already stressful environment.

  • Help students tackle the time constraint by encouraging them to complete the easiest questions, sections, or passages first.
  • Remind them, as they skip through the assessment, to circle or star questions that they have decided to skip; the last thing they want to do is lose points by forgetting to answer questions or entire segments of the test.
  • Prompt students to read the questions first, then approach the accompanying passages or texts. This allows students to read with purpose; they know what they need to look for within the text having seen the test questions to come.
  • Teach students to budget their time, especially when assessments include essay responses or written components. If the assessment contains an essay at the end, students will want to give themselves enough time to draft an quick outline and then respond to the prompt.

 

Beat the guessing game

When it comes to guessing, we want to make sure that even the most hesitant students are making educated guesses, as opposed to the “eenie, meenie, miney, mo” method.

  • For multiple choice, true/false, matching, or bubble sheet assessments, students should be discouraged from looking for a specific pattern of answers. It is rare that exam answers would follow a predetermined, distinct pattern. As much as it may be comforting or reassuring to come across an answer pattern, blindly adhering to that pattern is ill-advised.
  • Eliminate wrong answers to remove distractions, then choose your best guess from the remaining options. If an answer does not make grammatical sense, check with the teacher or instructor before selecting it—it could be a typo, but it could also be a subtle hint that it is not the correct answer.
  • If guessing, avoid answers that contain absolute phrases, such as always, never, or none. These phrases are often trick options, meant to make students overthink the question. Words like probably, sometimes, or often are more plausible answers.
  • If presented with numeric options for multiple choice answers, and you have no clue how to approach it, choose the mid-range numeral, as opposed to the largest or smallest number.
  • If no other strategies apply for multiple choice, and you are forced to guess, choose the answer option with the most detail—those are more often correct.
  • Only select “all of the above” if you truly know that all of the above are correct. Do not assume that, if a) and c) are definitely correct, b) should apply as well. Carefully consider whether a) or c) is most appropriate.

When in doubt, if you see two multiple choice answer options that are opposites, such as enigmatic and straightforward, one of those is likely the answer. Students should know to look for antonyms or opposites when guessing on vocabulary questions. They should also be encouraged to examine words and phrases around the term in question to decipher any possible context clues.

Dealing with School Drama at Home, Part I

While the middle and high school years are most notably fraught with drama, elementary-aged children are also seeing their fair share of peer disputes and social squabbles. More often than not, drama that occurs during the school day makes its way home with students. Like gum on the bottom of a sneaker, a social issue with a peer tends to latch on and attract more dirt and grime throughout the day, only to become an even bigger issue later on. Since the prevalence of peer issues truly reaches all age groups, it is important that parents have plenty of strategies and tools to utilize when drama rears its ugly head.

 

Avoid fueling the fire or taking on the emotional burden. This is easier said than done because, of course, as a parent, your instinct is to defend and protect by immediately taking your child’s side. However, this instinctual defense mode could simply cause your child’s emotions to become even more dramatic. Instead, use these conversations as an opportunity to diffuse the situation simply by listening. Merely talking about the issue can bring about a level of comfort, so act as the sounding board, not the hype girl.

 

Try not to downplay your child’s feelings with phrases like, “Everyone deals with drama,” or “It’s not that serious.” Your perspective is helpful, but not when it serves to discredit or minimize your child’s feelings. As adults, we can easily forget how these moments in school felt like the end of the world.  Compared to our real world drama we get to experience in adulthood, these quarrels may seem like nothing, but to your child, they are a big deal. Therefore, it is important that they feel heard.

 

You want to be sure that you are not pressuring your child about maintaining or discontinuing a friendship one way or another. It is perfectly helpful for parents to give advice when it comes to friendships, but often times, you may find yourself saying things like, “You two have been friends for years, why let something like this ruin that?” Or, “Our families have known each other since before you were born, you should really try to work this out.” You must allow children to make their own judgement call when it comes to friendship drama; you also want to avoid minimizing their feelings by simply telling them to work it out for your own sake. Furthermore, just because the “close family friends” scenario is convenient, it does not mean that your children are naturally going to get along with your friends’ children.

 

Help them take their mind off of the drama by expanding their circle to include new peers and activities. Ask about neighborhood friends, after-school activities, weekend extracurricular opportunities, and clubs they may want to join. Sometimes a little “friendship break” is all it takes to breathe, regroup, and reset the relationship. In the interim, it is helpful for children and teens to have different options for socializing—casting a wider net ensures that drama can be avoided simply by socializing with other peer groups from time to time.

How to Manage Testing Time: For Middle School Students

This time of year can be met with mixed emotions from students. Yes, spring break is on the here, which gives students, parents, and teachers a brief, but much-needed reprieve from the stressful school day.

Yet spring is also the time in which schools are gearing up for testing season. For middle schoolers, these tests may include benchmark assessments to gauge math and reading growth, like Map-M and Map-R. Middle schoolers will also be taking the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment. Because of the “high-stakes” mentality associated with these sorts of exams, the weeks leading up to and during testing can be rather stressful for students, parents, and teachers. However, there are strategies that parents and teachers can use to help middle school learners prepare for and thrive during these tests without becoming overwhelmed by stress or pressure.

  • Remind middle schoolers of strategies and routines that are within their control. Test-taking can be stressful due to the uncertainty and lack of control. To boost confidence and instill beneficial practices, talk to students about how they can put their best foot forward before even sitting down to take the exam.
    • Jumpstart their day with a healthy, filling breakfast that will keep middle schoolers fueled through the morning. Parents and teachers may want to consider providing students with a small snack during testing to keep the hunger edge off. Check with the school about their protocol for snacks while testing and consider packing a water bottle with your child as well. Hunger and thirst can be major distractions when it comes to learning, so a little pick-me-up might go a long way with keeping middle schoolers motivated and attentive during a morning of testing.
    • For any number of reasons, likely technology-related stimuli, middle schoolers are getting less and less sleep these days. Breaking poor sleeping habits can take a while before the body truly adjusts to a new schedule. Take action early by encouraging middle schoolers to adhere to a 7-8 hour sleep schedule leading up to assessment week. A regular sleep and wake time helps the body adjust to a healthy circadian rhythm, which will stave off any fatigue and keep students alert and focused during testing.
    • Think positive thoughts. Remind students that a test is simply one indicator of learning. And while we would like middle schoolers to take their testing seriously, we do not want them to be consumed with anxiety and stress. The mantra “do your best, forget the rest” helps learners to focus more on genuine effort and less on perfection or final scores.

  • Annotating is a practice that middle schoolers have probably been honing throughout the school year. Obviously, close reading and analytical thinking skills are beneficial across content areas—annotating is a practice that students are completing in science, history, English, and even math. Additionally, close reading and annotating can greatly help students during assessments as well.
  • A helpful strategy is to provide students with practices in which they annotate test questions, text excerpts, and written response prompts. The key is to help students identify what a question, answer option, or prompt is truly asking. By highlighting key words, breaking down questions, or rephrasing questions, students are better able to focus their thinking.

  • Parents should also remind middle schoolers about any 504 or IEP accommodations that they should be granted for testing. Some assessments, like PARCC, do not allow for certain accommodations; however, accommodations apply during other tests. Parents, children, and teachers must be on the same page when it comes to testing accommodations for major exams or standardized tests. When in doubt, ask—this way children know what to expect on exam day and are not thrown off by a possible lack of accommodations.

Stress Awareness Month: How to Lower Stress Levels in the Classroom

Stress in the classroom is all too familiar to a teacher. Someone once likened teaching to monitoring 30+ open, blinking tabs on a computer screen, while juggling and reciting Shakespeare. This comparison seems fairly accurate a lot of the time. So, if the adult in the room is feeling the stress, how do you think the students are feeling? Not so surprisingly, American children are sadly experiencing chronic stress in and out of the classroom. In fact, data indicates that pharmaceutical use for children with emotional disorders has risen to an alarming rate, as has the suicide rate for adolescents. We know from our own personal experiences that mounting stress has an enormous ripple effect on our day-to-day lives. Sleeping patterns, eating habits, productivity, concentration, academics, social/emotional well-being—all of these factors are very much correlated to stress levels. Seeing as teachers spend much of the day interacting closely with students, it then becomes our responsibility to not only teach, but also monitor the emotional well-being of our students.

The solution to stress in children should not begin by managing stressors once they have reached their peak, but rather helping students avoid getting to that point of eruption. Here are a few tips to help teachers take a proactive approach to stress:

Allow time for homework, large assignments, projects, or conferencing during class. Yes, this down time is likely not a central part of the scripted curriculum. However, with pockets of down time, students can not only practice multi-tasking, self-reflection, and peer conferencing, but they can also use this time as a moment to simply breathe. The typical middle schooler has anywhere from five to eight core classes during the day. With only a break for lunch and the rushed locker visits between classes, it is no wonder why middle schools are reporting an increase in stress levels, visits to the counseling office, and absenteeism. A simple 10-15 minutes of class every other day to pause, organize, reflect, or ponder could be a very necessary practice to employ if students are visibly stressed. Often times, adolescents’ stress levels mount when they feel incapable of maintaining the balancing act. To avoid this, allow class time every once in a while to simply have students get their bearings. These pockets of time can be used for anything—a school project, extra math practice, reading, or simply organizing. The key here is that the time is used to keep that overbooked sense of urgency at bay.

Encourage feedback on how your students are managing their schoolwork. Explicitly discuss what assignments, assessments, or projects are consuming the most time outside of school. Inquire about how long it took the average student to complete last weekend’s homework. Often times, what teachers consider to be “simply extra practice” can end up being a student’s sleepless night. Perhaps you may give anonymous monthly surveys to gauge how stressed your students are. But don’t just collect the data—use it to plan how you and other colleagues can minimize the impact that school stress is having on students.

Be flexible when a student is visibly struggling. If you know that a student is having a personal struggle at home, or if he has been out sick for several days, consider excusing the student from any assignments that are simply review items or filler homework. Of course, most assignments are (hopefully) central to the learning objectives of the class. For these tasks, provide extra help or one-on-one assistance so that your student does not feel burdened with the piles of make-up work. Similarly, be lenient with due dates—as teachers, we can easily tell the difference between a student who desperately needs more time and one that is milking absences.

Think of outlets for stress. In the same way that we hit the gym to expel the stress of the day, allow your students to explore options to clear their minds and bodies of any angst. If a walk to the water fountain before a big test keeps the jitters at bay, make that a routine. Or, have a stress ball or fidget collection to occupy nervous hands during class. When said task/test/lesson is over, acknowledge your students’ concentration, tenacity, and composure.  

 

Stress Awareness Month: How Parents Can Monitor and Manage a Child’s Stress Level

Adults are all too familiar with the concept of stress—we live with it almost every day to some extent. Not so surprisingly, American children are sadly experiencing chronic stress as well. In fact, data indicates that pharmaceutical use for children with emotional disorders has risen to an alarming rate, as has the suicide rate for adolescents. We know from our own personal experiences that mounting stress has an enormous ripple effect on our day-to-day lives. Sleeping patterns, eating habits, productivity, social/emotional well-being—all of these factors are very much correlated to stress levels. If we adults sometimes find ourselves in the weeds when it comes to stress, how can we expect children to react to an increase in stress?

The solution to stress in children should not involve managing stressors once they have reached their peak, but rather helping children avoid getting to that point of eruption. Here are a few tips to help parents take a proactive approach to stress:

Pack the schedule with pockets of “downtime,” as opposed to more activities. Of course children yearn to participate, whether it be dance class, soccer practice, after-school camp, science club, etc. This enthusiasm should not be discouraged, but it is a parent’s job to manage a realistic schedule and to keep it manageable. Yes, things will pop up—parties or sleepovers or field trips will emerge from the woodwork. However, downtime is essential for children to maintain their mental health. Often times, a child or adolescent’s stress levels mount when they feel incapable of maintaining the balancing act. To avoid this, allow time in the family’s daily schedule to do absolutely nothing. These pockets of time can be used for anything—a school project, extra violin practice, reading, or simply relaxing. The key here is that the time is used to keep that overbooked sense of urgency at bay.

Explicitly discuss stress and where it comes from. The more your teen recognizes where and when his or her stress emerges, the better equipped he or she will be able to anticipate and circumvent the stressor. For instance, if procrastination or last-minute rushing is the catalyst, teach time management strategies and how to plan ahead.

Similarly, if you know your child’s stressors, help him or her to prepare for upcoming events that might cause anxiety or stress. If you know that your child despises the dentist, give him or her a heads-up about an upcoming appointment. Explain that nervous feelings are valid, but that the pros of going to the dentist far exceed the temporary uneasiness.

Think of outlets for stress. In the same way that we hit the gym to expel the stress of the day, allow your child to explore options to clear his or her mind and body of any angst. If a walk around the block the morning before an important recital keeps the jitters at bay, make that a routine. Or, bring a stress ball to the dreaded dentist appointment. When said event is over, celebrate your child’s bravery, tenacity, and composure.