Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Big Count Down (AKA: My Kid is Completely Stressed Out!)

It's a little known fact, but there's actually a countdown that's more famous and more popular than the one that happens every New Year's Eve.  Like its New Year's Eve counterpart, there's a huge amount of planning and organizing involved.  Some folks dread it, others can't wait for it. 

Have you figured it out?  It's The Big Count Down!  Also known as, the end of the school year!

Unless your kids attend a year-round school, they are probably already counting down the remaining days of school for the year.  In most cases, so are the teachers and support staff. 

I always marveled at how quickly the year passed.  I never tired of seeing the new school year begin and I was always ready when it was drawing to a close.  In my current position, I get to speak with principals and teachers and I have found that most of them are counting the days with the kids.  Like other cycles in our lives, there's a beginning, middle and end.

The end of the school year is often filled with some anxiety for students, teachers and parents.  Serious students are gravely concerned about their grades and want to end the year with the best grade possible in each class.  They buckle down and work a little harder.  The sense of ending the year may cause extra stress on them.  I've seen some students struggle with the feeling that everything is coming due at the same time and there's not enough time to get it all done.  While their desire to finish on top is admirable, it needs to be tempered with some stress relief.  Overloaded and over-stressed often define these students. 

So, what can be done about it?  I have just a few suggestions for these Type A, Overachiever, OCD-like individuals.

1. Ask your child if he/she feels stressed out.  Sounds simple and it is.  However, in my experience, many parents fail to ask this essential question.  This question can lead to some very insightful conversations.  It can also give you the opportunity to connect with your child about similar experiences you've had.  Once the sharing is done, work together and come up with a plan to address the stressors. 

2. Develop a plan.  We've all heard the adage that most people don't plan to fail, they fail to plan.  It's true.  Plans don't have to be convoluted or terribly involved.  They can be a prioritized list of things that need to be done and their deadlines for completion beside them.  Your tech-savvy child probably has an app on his/her smartphone or tablet that will help him/her stay on track.  A printed list tacked up in a highly visible place can work as well.  Decide on what's most effective and make the plan.

3. Implement the plan.  It sounds silly to state it this way, but most plans remain plans until they are implemented.  One task at a time.  Focus.  Complete it. Mark it off. 

4. Celebrate.  Decide on a way to celebrate each item you complete in your plan.  It might be something as simple as spending time at the park, on a bike ride, eating ice cream, chatting with a friend, whatever.  (If you are a teenager, maybe the reward is sending 25 bazillion text messages in 15 minutes.) Small accomplishments should be celebrated with small rewards.  Larger accomplishments should be celebrated with larger rewards.  When the whole plan is completed, celebrate in a manner that is appropriate for you and your student.  The key here is that the rewards must be meaningful to the recipient and must be of enough value to motivate the student to accomplish the task.

In my own life, I sometimes neglect to deal with items in my work email inbox.  I answer the message but I don't move it to a folder or I don't mark it for follow-up.  I just leave it sitting there.  So, when it's overwhelming me, I finally plan an attack on it.  I disengage from everything else and have only my email up.  I start at the bottom of the stack and work my way through it.  If it's ridiculously full, I'll give myself a small goal of filing, deleting or dealing with 25 messages.  When those are dealt with appropriately, I might take a break and walk outside for 15 minutes.  Then, I come back and deal with another 25.  Once they are all dealt with, my reward might be minimizing my email and moving on to something else.  The sense of accomplishment is awesome. 

My point is, the plan is important, implementation is essential and the reward is the motivation.  Once they are set in motion, the stress begins to fade on its own.  The plan makes the stress manageable.  The implementation makes the stress lessen.  The reward replaces the stress with a good feeling and a sense of accomplishment. 

Finally, if the stress is overwhelming, it may be necessary to make an appointment to visit with your school's guidance counselor or principal.  Letting them know that your child is stressed and feeling overwhelmed is a big help.  Generally, most counselors and principals would want to know this and would want to help.  They may be able to help your child develop a plan of attack at school.  At the very least, you will have attempted to communicate with the school about your child and his/her situation.

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