School Success in a Stressful World

school success in a stressful worldMany children and teens today are under extreme pressure to perform well in school and be productive members of their families and society. They are overscheduled and constantly on the go. Pressure from parents, friends, and peers and from within can become overwhelming and stressful.

Compounding the stresses of their academic, sports, and social lives, children may be affected by many things out of their control. Their parents may be experiencing financial and work tensions or separation or divorce. Life can be especially stressful during adolescence for children and parents when youth are undergoing major physical and emotional changes during puberty.


Stress that is not dealt with in a healthy way has the potential to damage physical health and psychological well-being. That is why it’s important for parents to help their children and teens develop strengths, acquire skills to cope, recover from hardships, and be prepared for future challenges. Children need to be resilient to succeed in life.


Kenneth Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed, FAAP, offers parents guidelines to help their children recognize their abilities and inner resources—ways to help their children build resilience. Dr Ginsburg has identified 7 Cs of resilience, recognizing that “resilience isn’t a simple, one-part entity.”


Competence describes the feeling of knowing that you can handle a situation effectively. We can help the development of competence by

  • Helping children focus on individual strengths
  • Focusing any identified mistakes on specific incidents
  • Empowering children to make decisions
  • Being careful that your desire to protect your child doesn’t mistakenly send a message that you don’t think she is competent to handle things
  • Recognizing the competencies of siblings individually and avoiding comparisons


A child’s belief in his own abilities is derived from competence. Build confidence by

  • Focusing on the best in each child so that he can see that as well
  • Clearly expressing the best qualities, such as fairness, integrity, persistence, and kindness
  • Recognizing when he has done well
  • Praising honestly about specific achievements and not giving diffuse praise that may lack authenticity
  • Not pushing the child to take on more than he can realistically handle


Developing close ties to family and community creates a solid sense of security that helps lead to strong values and prevents alternative destructive paths to love and attention.

You can help your child connect with others by

  • Building a sense of physical safety and emotional security within your home
  • Allowing the expression of all emotions, so that kids will feel comfortable reaching out during difficult times
  • Addressing conflict openly in the family to resolve problems
  • Creating a common area where the family can share time (not necessarily TV time)
  • Fostering healthy relationships that will reinforce positive messages


Children need to develop a solid set of morals and values to determine right from wrong and to demonstrate a caring attitude toward others. To strengthen your child’s character, start by

  • Demonstrating how behaviors affect others
  • Helping your child recognize herself as a caring person
  • Demonstrating the importance of community
  • Encouraging the development of spirituality
  • Avoiding racist or hateful statements or stereotypes


Children need to realize that the world is a better place because they are in it. Understanding the importance of personal contribution can serve as a source of purpose and motivation. Teach your children how to contribute by

  • Communicating to children that many people in the world do not have what they need
  • Stressing the importance of serving others by modeling generosity
  • Creating opportunities for each child to contribute in some specific way


The following are some of the messages your children may be hearing or feeling on an ongoing basis:

Pressure from parents: “Hurry up, finish this, do your homework, try out for the team, audition for the school play, clean up your room, do your best, stay out of trouble, make more friends, don’t drink or do drugs…”

Pressure from friends and peers: “Be cool, try this, show us you aren’t a loser, don’t hang out with those dorks…”

Pressure from within: “I need to lose weight, wear the right clothes and shoes, get a tattoo, show my parents I’m not a baby and can do what my friends do; I need to play a sport to be cool; I’m not a success unless I come in first place; I’m such a loser for failing that test…”


Learning to cope effectively with stress will help your child be better prepared to overcome life’s challenges. Positive coping lessons include

  • Modeling positive coping strategies on a consistent basis
  • Guiding your child to develop positive and effective coping strategies
  • Realizing that telling him to stop the negative behavior will not be effective
  • Understanding that many risky behaviors are attempts to alleviate the stress and pain in kids’ daily lives
  • Not condemning your child for negative behaviors and potentially increasing his sense of shame


Children who realize that they can control the outcomes of their decisions are more likely to realize that they have the ability to bounce back. Your child’s understanding that she can make a difference further promotes competence and confidence. You can try to empower your child by

  • Helping your child understand that life’s events are not purely random and that most things that happen are the result of another individual’s choices and actions
  • Learning that discipline is about teaching, not punishing or controlling, and using discipline to help your child to understand that her actions produce certain consequences


Dr Ginsburg summarizes what we know for sure about the development of resilience in kids by the following:

  • Children need to know that there is an adult in their life who believes in them and loves them unconditionally.
  • Kids will live up or down to our expectations.
  • There is no simple answer to guarantee resilience in every situation. But we can challenge ourselves to help our children develop the ability to negotiate their own challenges and to be more resilient, more capable, and happier.