1. Can you illustrate on how badly stress at school can affect children if left untreated?
A secondary 4 student in an elite school came to see me for low mood. He has been feeling that he cannot cope with his schoolwork and constantly feel pressurized as his classmates appear to cope better than him. He feels lousy about himself and that he is useless. He also started having suicidal thoughts. Despite having worked hard, he was very anxious prior to his school examinations as he was worried he would not do well and his results would be poor. He was also very fearful and catastrophized about the 'O' levels exams.
2. What could happen to a child if they become too overwhelmed by anxieties? Some cases state self-mutilation and even suicide?
When a child becomes too stressed and anxious, they can develop aberrant behaviors. These can include tantrums and complaints of physical discomfort like stomachache in younger children. Teenagers may have deliberate self harm. They may become depressed and have suicidal behaviors.
3. What are some of the ways I can help my children cope with academic pressure and exams today?
Focus on the process and not results.
The most important factor in helping children cope with academic pressure is in shifting the focus and attention away from results to the process of working hard. This does not only emphasize the right value of hard work and perseverance but will also lessen anxiety as the child knows that as long as he worked hard, he has done well, rather than having to get good results in the examinations which can sometimes be dependent on factors such as luck.
Help the child learn about stress management. This can be achieve through proper rest and sleep, regular exercise, and having hobbies and time to play. A happy and stress free child will be more effective and passionate about learning.
Sharing your experience.
Children learn by modeling after their parents and mentors. Share anecdotes and stories about yourself and your experiences of how you dealt with your stress and academic hurdles. These stories will help the child know that he is not alone in facing these pressures and that he can overcome them.
Maintaining long term goals and outlook.
Explore with your child what his goals in life are and set long term targets. Understand that there are many ways to achieve these goals and many paths will lead them to where they will like to be in the future. When he realizes these, failing an exam or getting not so good grades will not be as daunting given the larger long term picture.