Grade school is full of challenges and stressors, especially for kids who learn and think differently. It’s important for kids to develop coping skills — ways to manage the stress. Here are some tips for helping your child feel less stressed and learn how to cope.
1. Do some detective work.
Kids who learn and think differently might not even be aware that they’re feeling stress. You can help by asking some simple, low-key questions. Drawing together is a good way to get conversation flowing. Mention you’ve noticed something has been bothering your child. Help put a name to what it might be. “Are you feeling worried about reading out loud in Ms. Smith’s class?” Simply talking about feelings can be a relief.
2. Break down the homework.
A whole page of word problems or a big packet of math can be overwhelming, particularly for kids with attention issues. Breaking the problems down into chunks — groups of three, for example — can make the task more manageable. Promise fun breaks in between. Your child can do a few problems and then FaceTime with a friend or take a pet out to play. Always praise your child for each set of problems or worksheet completed.
3. Prep for the new stuff.
If your grade-schooler is going to start a new activity, like karate or dance class, visit the studio ahead of time. Let your child meet the person who greets you at the front desk. Check out the bathroom, and introduce yourselves to the teacher. Ask the instructor to describe what the kids will do on the first day of class. Knowing what to expect may help your child feel less anxiety about participating.
4. Celebrate even the smallest wins.
Most kids feel some level of stress when facing a brand-new challenge. But they eventually dive in because past successes help them feel confident. Kids who learn and think differently need that same motivation — but the wins are often harder to come by. Watch for opportunities to praise accomplishments. Maybe your child finished a few more word problems without getting up from the table. That’s a win! Knowing what success feels like may help your child feel less overwhelmed when facing new challenges.
5. Create a “can do” mantra.
Suggest positive phrases your child can repeat when facing stressful or new situations. “I’m not afraid to try” or “I can do this” are two good examples. These thoughts will crowd out negative talk. (“I’m too stupid to do this!” “I’ll never be able to make the team.”) And repeating the positive phrases over and over can be soothing.
An organized home with a clear set of daily rituals will give your child security after a hectic day at school. Stick to a routine whenever you can. Maybe your child will have an afternoon snack, walk the dog, and then do homework. On days with afterschool activities, keep to a regular routine too. Create some structure for weekends as well. Too much time without a schedule can make kids antsy.
Stress can build up like steam in an engine. Give your child plenty of chances to release some of the pressure. Make exercise a part of everyday life for the whole family. Sign up for a membership at your local Y and go together. Encourage your child to jump rope, sing out loud, or dance to a favorite song between homework assignments.
8. Choose some afterschool activities.
For the child who struggles in school, being good at something like karate can be a big boost. Afterschool activities also give structure to the afternoons and are a stress-busting release. But be careful not to schedule too many things. Being overscheduled can make your child’s stress worse. Do your best to leave some days open.
9. Be clear and reasonable about what you expect.
Maybe you’ve been working with your child on spelling. Your child may feel worried, thinking you only want perfect scores on spelling tests. Tell your child what you actually expect. Or maybe you expect a clean bedroom and don’t want to have to remind your child to take care of it. But is this big task realistic? Most kids who learn and think differently will benefit from having a big task broken down into several small ones. They’ll also find reminders helpful. And some kids want company while they do chores.
10. Consider getting outside help.
Find a class or a group where your child can learn yoga, meditation, or deep breathing. Mental health experts who specialize in treating children with learning and thinking differences can also help with stress management skills.