7 ways to help your middle- or high-schooler manage stress

Middle and high school students often feel overwhelmed by everyday responsibilities and schoolwork. Get tips to help your child manage social and school stress.

Kids in middle school and high school often face academic challenges, plus a lot of social stress. This can be especially true for kids who learn and think differently.

Here are some tips to lower the stress level and help keep your teen from feeling overwhelmed.

1. Talk about feelings.

Many teens with learning challenges don’t even realize they’re feeling stress. Start a conversation, but keep your questions low-key. Taking the time to talk about feelings can be a huge relief for your teen.

Try taking a walk or going for a drive together to help the flow of conversation. Say you’ve noticed that something has been bothering them. Help to put a name on what it might be. “Is all this talk about the SATs making you feel uneasy?”

2. Prep for new tasks and changes.

Starting any new task can be stressful. Help your teen feel less anxious by going over what they can expect to happen.

For instance, maybe your teen is about to start volunteering at a community center. Practice basic social skills for meeting new people, like saying hello and shaking hands. Stop by the center together to see what the place is like. See where your child will be working and how busy it is. Find out where the bathroom is. Maybe meet a few other volunteers before the first day.

3. Celebrate even the smallest wins.

Most teens get nervous sometimes. But past successes give them the confidence to jump in. Kids with learning differences need the same boost — but those wins can feel harder to find.

Celebrate every success, big or small. Booking a haircut, talking to a teacher — these everyday successes build confidence. And they can make challenges less scary. Praising a teen’s accomplishments can also help nurture a “can-do” attitude.

4. Keep some routines and order at home.

When teens come home to an organized home with regular rituals, it can help them feel secure. That’s especially true after a busy and stressful day at school. Try to create a space where your child can keep school supplies and homework in order.

Make a calendar with homework due dates, afterschool activities, and next appointments. Go over them together every few nights.

Create some structured time on weekends as well. Too much time without a schedule can make some teens feel anxious.

5. Blow off steam.

Stress can build up like steam in a pressure cooker. You can help your teen find ways to release that tension. Maybe your teen likes to play music, or enjoys finding a quiet spot to read or draw.

Exercise is also vital. Maybe your teen would like to work out, go for a run, or find an exercise class at a community center or online.

6. Consider outside help or extracurricular activities.

Mental health experts who specialize in treating teens who learn and think differently can help teens manage their stress. You could also find a class or app where your teen can learn yoga, meditation, or deep breathing.

Extracurricular activities and hobbies can add structure to time off and relieve stress. Help teens find an outlet that brings them joy and boosts their positive outlook.

Just remember that doing too many activities can cause stress.

7. Be clear about what you expect.

Some parents ask their kids to “just do your best.” This can sound overwhelming to teens. They may think you’re asking them to give 100 percent effort in everything, all the time. Communicate what you expect. Be as specific as possible.

For example, imagine you want your teen to start being more responsible. Will your teen know what “more responsible” looks like? Or is it too abstract?

You’ll need to explain, in concrete terms, what you’re looking for. Then, praise your teen for the kinds of things you want to see more of. (“I appreciate that you came home and started studying without a reminder.”)

Looking for more ways to help your teen with stress? Find out why teens and tweens get frustrated with school and what you can say. And get tips to help your high-schooler cope with test anxiety.