School Stress: a Full time Job for Our Kids


After school today, at least a half dozen parents are taking a meeting with the middle school head to speak their minds about the toll of homework stress. It won’t be pretty.

At  the prestigious K-8 private school my girls attend, they pour it on thick throughout the week, on the weekends, and over holiday breaks. And this isn’t even one of San Francisco’s so-called Motrin Schools where overloaded students need pain medication to cope with chronic head and stomach ailments.

My 12-year-old, a gifted writer and artist who skipped 3rd grade because of her aptitude, size and maturity, is more anxious than ever. “We’re getting robbed of our childhoods,” complains Sydney, chomping on her cuticles and twitching her eyes, just a couple side effects of her anxiety.

In addition to the two to three hours she faces daily in math, social studies, and religious studies, her crazed English teacher has the students completing a novel a week, part of a project called Book Search involving comparative literature. Among the tasks to complement the reading is second sourcing: Researching related topics (in Syd’s case, White Supremacy) and summarizing 1,000 word essays on the topic.

While my husband and I are in agreement that most homework is sheer busywork cast off by time-crunched teachers, we can’t do much to overhaul the curriculum. I did, however, locate some helpful coping tips from Web MD for both parents and kids battling the modern epidemic of speed learning and information overload. See if they help your family.

-Watch for signs of school-related stress:

According to school counselors and other experts, much of the pressure and anxiety about school stems from the college admissions race. Younger kids feel it, too, espeically when it comes to test-taking anxiety. In the younger kids, signs of stress could be headaches, stomachaches, or trying to stay out of school. In older kids, look for cutting or expressions of despair.

-Teach kids time-management skills:

In the face of unimaginative administrators, we must do our part to help our children meet demands far beyond their cognitive development.

Time-management and organization skills are crucial for fighting stress and are not often taught in the schools. Help your kids stay on track after school and at night, allowing short breaks but no TV until the work is finished. Also, make sure their binders are organized by checking in with them. Don’t assume they are old enough to take charge of all of this themselves. It isn’t anything like when you were a kid and they need loads of support. Tough love is the wrong approach.

-Consider whether your child is over-scheduled:

I’ve scaled back on everything but soccer team and voice training with my girls, mostly at their urging. When will they have any down time at all if their days are crammed with acitivities and homework? They are humans, not machines.

“If parents filled their kids schedules with more sleep, down time and family time, we would not be in the situtation we are today,” recognizes Denise Clark Pope, PhD, (below) a lecturer at the Standford University School of Education. Check out her study: Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed-Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students. Don’t even ask your kids what they want. If they’re stressed out, lighten the load!


-Encourage more sleep, exercise and family mealtimes:

Sleep deprivation only aggravates school stress, especially in young teens who tend to fight sleep. Experts agree most kids need at least 9 to 10 hours per night and many are getting 6 or less. Help them burn off stress with exercise (kicking the soccer ball out back). And maintain connection for cushioning stress with family mealtimes, at least 4 to 5 times a week. At my house, we use that time to go around the table and take turns talking about our day.

-Watch parental pressure:

Pope says be careful asking kids how they did on a test the minute you greet them at pick up. Instead, she says inquire, “What’s the best things that happened to you today?” I just love this alternative as someone guilty of the prior line of questioning. Try to resist feeling your child cannot compete with others on a fast track if you ease up a bit in your approach.

- Tips and tools to help:

Provide your child with a planner to schedule assignments; create a quiet space to study free of distractions; bump up homework to after school rather than after dinner if you are able; find a homework club at your shcool or let your child do homework with a friend when appropriate. Let these school years be fun. A childhood is supposed to be fun.

In the end, our time with our children is short. They grow up quicky and head off. It’s so important to find a balance for them so they’ll become enthusiastic lifelong learners rather than burned out head cases. It’s easier to be compassionate when you think of the long haul.

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.