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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.

3. Consider whether your child is over-scheduled.

Over-scheduling is a big source of school stress, experts say. Many high-school students enroll in more Honors or Advanced Placement courses than they can handle, and then pile extracurricular activities on top, says Denise Clark Pope, PhD, a lecturer at the Stanford University School of Education in Stanford, California, and author of Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed-Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students.

If parents filled their kids' schedules with more sleep, down time, and family time, Pope says, "We would not be in the situation we are today. It would be that dramatic of a change."

As a fellow student, O'Brien agrees: "Kids are so consistently worried about keeping up with 'what's next' and 'what's next,' that it's hard to sit down and say, 'Wow, I'm stressed out. Let's find out why.'"

Elementary students can be over-scheduled, too, Holt says. "There are so many things to do now. It's not like you just go outside and play. Now there are clubs, sports, ballet, gym - plus you're trying to get homework in there," she says. "As a society, we're just in a whirlwind. We've forgotten: We are dealing with children."

Some children thrive under a "driven schedule," the AAP report says. "However, for some children this hurried lifestyle is a source of stress and anxiety and may even contribute to depression."

The challenge is to strike a balance between work and play. If your child feels overly stressed and overwhelmed, look for ways to cut back on school work and extra activities - though that's not easy for overachievers to hear.

"Kids just have this idea that they need to be Superman," O'Brien says.

4.Encourage sleep, exercise - and family mealtimes

Worried about the physical and emotional costs of academic stress, Pope founded the Stanford-based "Stressed-Out Students" (SOS) program. SOS partners with middle schools and high schools to survey kids' stress levels and find ways to reduce stress in school.

"There has been a serious problem with sleep deprivation," Pope says. "It's not unusual for 30% or 40% of [the students] to get 6 hours or less. Almost none are getting the required hours that an adolescent needs - which is 9 ½ hours." Adequate sleep alone would make a big difference in teens' stress levels, she says.

Holt advises exercise to help cope with stress. "If all you have is academics," she says," [stress] is going to build up, and it's got to go somewhere. It's going to help if kids are being physically active."

Both Holt and Pope agree: Family time is also crucial for cushioning stress. Pope suggests mealtimes as a way to connect with your child - "a minimum of 20 minutes sitting down together at least 4 to 5 times a week," she says. "Listen to your children, and communicate with them."

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