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Health & Parenting

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Coping with School Stress

These 5 tips can help kids cope with school stress and homework pressure -- and ease school anxiety for kids of all ages.
WebMD Feature

When it comes to school stress, Hannah O'Brien has seen some extremes.

The 17-year-old junior at Acalanes High School in Lafayette, California, has witnessed students crying in class after getting low test scores, she says, while others have gone without sleep a few nights in a row to keep up with homework.

"I personally have seen so many of my closest friends absolutely break -- emotionally, physically, mentally -- under stress, and I knew a lot of it was coming from school work," she says.

School stress is serious business. A 2007 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report suggests that for children and teens, too much work and too little play could backfire down the road. "Colleges are seeing a generation of students who appear to be manifesting increased signs of depression, anxiety, perfectionism and stress," the report says.

Young Kids Feel School Stress, Too

A great deal of the pressure and anxiety about school stems from the college admissions race, O'Brien says.

"Students are being really pushed to make great academic gains, with No Child Left Behind," says Jim Bierma, a middle-school counselor in St. Paul, Minnesota. "A lot of students are stressed out about college already - in junior high."

But younger kids feel pressured, too. Even among her elementary students in Harrisburg, Arkansas, school counselor Joy Holt sees academic stress. Young kids are terrified of failing the standardized tests now emphasized heavily during the school year, she says.

"Even the little ones, they know how important [testing] is, and they don't want to fail," Holt says. "They cry. They get sick. Students have actually thrown up on their test booklets."

Of course, not all students find the classroom such a crucible. But in today's landscape of high-stakes testing and frenzied college admissions, experts worry that school stress takes a toll on too many.

Here's what parents can do to help ease the burden.

1. Watch for signs of school-related stress.

With teens, parents should watch for stress-related behaviors, like purposely cutting themselves, or expressions of despair or hopelessness, however casual the comments may sound. "Those are off-hand remarks that you need to take seriously," Pope says.

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