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'Stress' Doesn't Identify Problem

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Uncover the root of the problem and then strategize!

Dear Dr. Fournier:

My son has been a middle-of-the-road student throughout the years. He is now in the fifth grade and seems to have settled there. If I say anything to him about doing better, he simply says that he is doing all he can do. Then comes the statement that stuns me: He says that he is stressed. I feel as if my son is shutting me out. How do I deal with my son's stress?

Amanda M.
Austin, TX

Dear Amanda,

ASSESSMENT

"I'm so stressed out may well be the theme of this millennium.
It started with adults complaining about the stress in their lives, but now younger and younger children come to my office and tell me that they can't do their work because of stress.
What exactly does it mean when we're "stressed out"? I believe that children have learned from adults that "stress" is a very convenient label for everything that bothers them.
Stress is not a condition. Stress is the feeling produced by a situation. Getting to the root of the problem means examining the situation and the child's inability to deal with it
In my practice, I have a simple rule:
Stress is not an answer I accept when trying to determine how I can help a child. Parents don't have to stop at the word either.

WHAT TO DO

When your son tells you that he is stressed, ask what is stressing him. It may be hard for your child to name the problem, but keep the channels of communication open until you feel you have found the cause.

When a child tells me that he or she is stressed, I don't just ask "Why?" I try to phrase my question in a way that allows the child to search for the situation that started the negative feeling.

What happens when you feel like this?

Are there certain things you avoid because you know they will make you feel stressed?

Once you and your child have identified the problem, then you can work on a strategy to help eliminate the problem or reduce the fear and pain your child has associate with it
For example, many children feel scared when a test is coming up. Have your child write on a calendar when his tests are scheduled. Two nights before each test, you will quiz your child and together you will make an estimate of a reasonable grade your son can make.
Dr. Yvonne Fournier
Dr. Yvonne Fournier
Photo: Rupert Yen

From that grade, take some points off and call them the "If I were calm" points. Help your child understand that these are points he might miss if he takes the test with fear.
When the actual grade comes in, compare to see how close your estimate was. Remember that the goal is to reduce or eliminate you child's fear and not simply focus on the grade or the content.

Each child needs different strategies depending on the situation and the fear provoked. The important thing for parents to know exactly what they are dealing with. This can free you from the word "stress" in your home.

CONTACT DR. FOURNIER

Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child's schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at drfournier@hfhw.net.

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