Stressed-Out Kids

How to help kids cope with stress as they go back to school

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant


School children have plenty to stress about, from their studies to friends to news to their family’s own struggles. It’s unhealthy — not to mention impossible — to eliminate all sources of stress.

Local experts shared how you can help your children better cope with stress.

• “Talk with your kids. We think about physical health, but there’s also mental health when they’re nervous about going back to school. Address any of their concerns about the new year.

• “There are some things where you really can’t prepare your kids. You really lay the groundwork for producing an adult.”

Pediatrician Edward Lewis, Lewis Pediatrics, Rochester

• “The most important thing parents can do is to recognize what’s going on in their kids’ lives, being in tune with their struggles, curious about their lives and the pressures they feel and what’s going on with their friends.

• “Be involved, not only in providing the extracurricular activities, but intimately involved in what’s happening in their lives.

• “Know about their social media — a lot of bullying happens there and drama among their peers. There’s a huge pressure for them to belong. I’ve seen when kids give up social media or reduce use of it they become happier.

• “I don’t think we can or should protect our kids against what’s happening in the world. But they should learn how to deal with it. There’s lots of violence and it is worrisome. But the benefit of allowing the kids to learn about things is it offers a teaching moment for parents where they can advocate for what has value in life. You have to tell them that they have to be prepared for whatever happens and aware of things around them. But it’s unlikely to happen to them. It’s a very fine balance.

• “Academic stress is an unavoidable pressure, but I have noticed that kids who feel the pressure the most freeze and cannot perform to their potential. That is followed by a drop in grades and it spirals down. If you accept your child for who he or she is and express trust in their abilities without pressuring them to accomplish certain things, and sometimes they do better.”

Chris Pulleyn, licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Rochester


• “Understand their limits. They should just get out of their comfort zone, but be competent to accomplish it. It’s when they’re to the point where they don’t have the ability to handle what they’ve agreed to do that they start to become completely stressed and we break down. Work with your children to learn where that line is. And children are very different. One size does not fit all.

• “We relieve stuff by talking about it. It used to be the family dinner time. Now that time is the time we’re driving everyone around or picking up groceries or cooking dinner, so we’re not emotionally present. You cannot process stress if you’re not present with the person.

• “We’re go, go, go culture. If you talk less and listen more, you give your child the opportunity to problem solve. Figuring out how your child processes their emotions and makes sense of their world and how much time it takes them to do that is key.”

Brigid Sboto, licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Rochester

• “Make sure the information you share is age-appropriate so they can process the information. There are a lot of traumas in the media. Parents should have an open dialogue so they can help them process what they see.

• “Consider seeing a therapist if you see an impact on sleep, how much they’re eating, and other stressor signs where kids pull on eyelashes or hair. Are your children struggling to express themselves? Is it always negative?”

Carol R. Inzinga, licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Rochester.