Academic pressure is the greatest stress in the life of most students. The pressure of studies is so much that it is driving teenagers to suicide. This article that quotes a Lancet study says that suicide is the leading cause of death among 10 – 24 year olds. This is a worrisome statistic indeed. And a finding that is sure to cast a shadow of terror on the hearts of all parents.
Academic stress is inevitable. Students who have to take exams and do well in them are bound to be stressed. But the stress must be managed appropriately with the help of the parents so that the pressure of studies does not increase to such an extent that it pushes children to take drastic steps like suicide.
What is Academic Pressure?
Academic pressure is the stress experienced by students because of their inability to perform well enough in school or their fear that they will be unable to perform well enough in school.
The four components of academic pressure are
- Academic frustration – leading to children giving up on studying and doing badly in exams
- Academic conflicts – this happens when children are forced to study against their will
- Academic anxieties – the fear of exams
- Academic pressures – The feeling of being overwhelmed by a large syllabus.
Students suffering from academic pressure can be classified into 3 categories –
- The children who are already failing
- Children who are average performers and always worried about failing
- Children who are toppers and are always worried about not topping
All three categories of students are sure to experience academic pressure – but the signs of pressure are different in all three categories of students. And it is important for parents to identify these signs and reach out for help urgently when they see them
Signs of Pressure of studies on children
Signs of academic pressure in children who are already failing
There are some children who are always at the bottom of the class. They fool around during class, they don’t write notes, they disturb other children who are trying to write notes and are often punished and made to stand outside the class. Their parents are tired of them and so are their teachers. They are labelled “Bad”. Everyone assumes that they have no desire to improve because they seem to make no effort to improve. They spend most of their time harassing others – their friends, their parents and their teachers – with their obnoxious disruptive behaviour. They are constantly watching TV or playing with their devices or they are out of the house racing bikes and doing reckless things that get them into trouble.
No. These children are not bad. They are just desperate to be good at something. They have given up hope of ever being good at academics. So they are now trying to be good at being bad. They see very little competition in that area.
What should you do when your child is “Bad”
- Never label your child “bad” and give up on her/him
- Reach out for help to figure out why she/he is bad
- Show her/him how to succeed.
In my personal experience of working with parents and children over the past several years – I have had numerous parents come to me with the request to make their children “Good”. All of them have given up on academics. They are not hoping for their children to do well in studies anymore. They just want some improvement in behaviour. They want me to cure the arrogance and the recklessness. All I have done in all these cases is – helped the child to find a strategy to succeed in academics.
Signs of academic pressure in children who are average
A lot of children are labelled – “lazy” “careless” and “forgetful” by parents and teachers alike. They are too “lazy” to participate in sports, elocutions or any other activities in school. Even if they are good at something – say art and craft – they are “forgetful” and forget to bring their paints on the day of the art competition. In the maths exam they know the answer – but they are careless and they leave out some questions and forget to write the answers.
No. These children are not “lazy” “careless” or “forgetful”. They are just extremely worried about failing. They are gripped by the fear of failure. They want to avoid participating in activities because they want to avoid failure. They prefer to be called “lazy” “forgetful” and “careless” rather than – “stupid” “brainless” and “not talented enough”
What should you do if your child is “lazy”
- Stop comparing your child with others
- Show your child that the joy of “doing” – which is much more than the joy of “winning”
- Help your child to learn persistence
- Reach out for expert help to find a strategy to help your child improve academic performance
- Display unconditional love
In my personal experience – I have seen that children who write wrong answers – or leave out questions in the exam by mistake – are often just afraid of writing what they have learnt because they are afraid of writing the wrong thing and making a fool of themselves. Working with them to analyse their exam papers and helping them to manage time and organize their work has always worked wonders. Once they see success in academics they have the confidence to do everything else. They no longer need to pretend to be “lazy” “careless” “forgetful” or “shy”
Signs of academic pressure in children who top the class
Some children are always worried. They study all the time. They don’t go out to play, they don’t talk to anyone, they don’t do anything that relaxes them, they are always serious and afraid of fun. They study as they walk to school, they study until they have to enter the exam hall and they come out of the exam hall in panic after writing their exam – convinced that everything they have written is wrong. They don’t want to cheat – but they sometimes do – even if they know everything – because they are frightened. And they hide their marks if they get anything less than a full score.
These are children who are gripped by the fear of failure. They link their self-worth to their marks. They are terrified of losing love and friendships if they get low marks. So they study out of fear. They show all the classical signs of stress – but these are mistaken for studiousness by parents and teachers. And they are hailed as “Good” by everyone.
What should you do when your “good” kid is stressed
- Show your child that you love her/him unconditionally
- Stop focusing on marks. Focus on learning.
- Do not make your child’s marks a topic you use to brag about to your friends
In my experience of working with children – I have found that these are children who are most prone to early burn out. They hate studying because they study out of fear. And they see no point in studying because they don’t study because of the joy of learning – they study because they want to come first – and that is something that does not depend on how much they study – but instead depends on how little other people study. Helping these children to relax and enjoy the process of learning by reassuring them of the unconditional love of the parents – is what works. It must be done in good time to avoid situations in which children get into bad friendships and addictions to relieve their stress.
Causes of academic pressure
“Will I get good marks?”
“I hate homework – it takes too much time”
“What will others think if I don’t do well”
“My parents will be upset if I don’t get good marks”
“I can’t understand what is taught in class”
“The teacher does not like me and won’t give me marks”
“I have too much to study and too little time”
“I feel tired all the time”
No time for leisure
“I have no time to do what I want”
“I get scolded all the time because I forget things and don’t complete my work”
How can you help your child with academic pressure
Stop focusing on marks
Focus on learning not on marks – Yes it is very nice to get full marks but it is more important to know what you don’t know…what you haven’t understood or what you need to study more.
The idea of exams is to discover what you don’t know – so that you can learn that for the next exam because it is ultimately learning that will help you in future.
If all that you look at are marks – the child
(a) Learns to take shortcuts to get marks – like studying from the notebook instead of the textbook – which compromises learning
(b) Cheats or scores marks by dishonest means – because her/his self-worth is linked to those marks
(c) Develops a low self-esteem because of the absence of unconditional love
(d) Becomes a workaholic later in life – because she/he feels that work is all that matters
(e) Is always ashamed of her/himself – because the marks obtained are not well deserved. This then leads to pompousness bullying and many other things
Allow your child to decide how many marks she/he finds are acceptable and tailor your expectations to meet that level. There is no point in pushing a child who is not inclined towards STEM to get full marks in math. If your child is happy with a 60% – accept 60%. If however, your child wants a 100% – work on a plan that will help her/him get there.
Also read 20 Ways To Motivate Your Teenager To Study
Understand and explain the true meaning of exams
It is easy to misunderstand why we take exams.
The purpose of exams is to allow us to understand what we have not understood so far – so that we can learn it again.
The purpose of exams is not – to show someone else (the teacher) how much we know- but to realize ourselves how much we know and what we don’t.
Unfortunately however, since exams are usually such a public affair – it is best to encourage children to test themselves on their knowledge before they go for the exam.
- Encourage your child to solve all the questions given at the end of the chapter
- Arrange for your child to solve all the available question papers
Assure your child that teachers are not out to fail us
It is strange – but there is a belief among students and parents alike that in an exam – the teacher sets the paper and corrects it with the objective of failing the child.
Nothing can be further from the truth however. Because the only way a teacher can prove to herself and to others that she is an effective teacher is – by ensuring that all the students she teaches pass the exam.
Question papers have 50 % marks allotted to very basic questions – so that everyone passes. Only 5% questions in any question paper are likely to be difficult. These are set for those students who have studied everything from their own text books and have also studied the chapter from other books and journals.
There is no point in worrying about these 5% questions because they are not from the book at all. Those who are already scoring 90% and want those 5% marks – must relax – keep their eyes and ears open to absorb knowledge from everywhere and read books that are not part of the prescribed syllabus.
Also read How to build a positive relationship with your child’s teacher
Help your child with goal setting
It is impossible to succeed with a vague goal like – I will come first in class.
A goal has to be very specific
“I already get 80% marks in Maths – in the next exam I am going to aim for 90%”
“This time I got only 55% marks in English – I will aim for 65% marks in the next exam”
Help your child to analyse why she/he is getting 55% and not 65%.
Pinpoint specific areas for improvement.
Allocate a particular time every day to work on that particular area. Research has proved that 20 hours of work can make you an expert in any skill. So build those 20 hours into your child’s schedule.
Analyzing – diagnosing the problem and figuring out what needs to be done next may require expert help. If you need help – reach out for help early. The sooner you connect with the expert – the easier it will be for you to implement the expert’s advice.
Specific goals must be set for each day – each week and each month.
Help your child with time management
There is absolutely no doubt about the fact that children have too much to do.
And one of their biggest challenges is that they are not able to prioritize.
What is important never gets done because there are so many urgent things that take up their time every day.
For example – Doing the homework is urgent and important so it gets done. Studying for the midterm exam that is 3 months away is important but not urgent and so it does not get done.
In addition to this – there are time wasters – like long hours spent on social media or watching TV
In an honest conversation – identify and eliminate time wasters
Step 1 – Make a list of everything your child needs to do in a day. Everything must include –
Time for study
Time to play
Time to socialize with friends
Time for leisure activities like listening to music
Time for household chores like making the bed and tidying the desk
Time for personal hygiene
Time for eating
Time to sleep
Step 2 – Divide the listed tasks into –
Urgent and important
Important but not urgent.
Remember that everything in the above list is important – And a friend’s birthday party is both urgent and important.
Step 3 – Now allocate a time for each thing on your list
Plan 30 minutes of study – followed by a break. This will ensure that your child does not get distracted.
Do difficult things first. If your child finds a particular subject really difficult – schedule time for it first thing in the morning. Also schedule a few minutes for it at the end of the day – just before your child sleeps. Scheduling time for difficult things twice a day ensures that more time is spent on it and it is not missed out.
Schedule time to build on strengths not just weaknesses – In your enthusiasm to help your child improve in subjects that she/he is weak in – do not forget to allocate time to the subjects your child is good in.
Plan a daily weekly and monthly schedule to meet the daily weekly and monthly goals.
Your child’s daily schedule must have room for study – exercise – relaxation and chores.
Also read How To Make Your Child Do Homework
Help your child to stick to the schedule and finish every day work
Even the most diligent child will invariably fail to stick to the routine planned and reach the goals targeted. This is because children live in the moment and are unable to foresee the consequences of their actions.
In spite of all the timetables – your child is sure to mix up her/his priorities if you are not around to push her/him back onto the track when she/he has faltered.
Once a child falters and falls behind on her/his planned timetable – panic will set in and what is studied will also not register in her/his brain.
Insist that your child studies what has been taught in class – that very day. That will keep the panic about “too much to study” under control.
Talk to your child
Don’t restrict your conversation to “Why aren’t you studying?” “Have you finished your homework?” “How come you didn’t get the good marks the other children got?” And so on.
Speak to your child when you are calm. Be empathetic and compassionate.
Listen – don’t just lecture.
Understand that children are going through immense physical and mental changes and have to cope with constant social shifts. Let them talk about all this to you. Once they have unburdened their minds by talking about whatever it is that is troubling them – their minds will be free to study with full focus.
Allow your child to be a child. Your teen is just tall physically – he/she still has the brain of a child. Don’t expect adult behavior and unreasonable levels of responsibility from them.
Allow your child to do some household chores
Don’t think of household chores as a waste of time.
Even if your child has too much to study – and very little time – encourage her/him to do simple tasks like making her/his own bed and tidying her/his desk and books every day.
Chores that involve de-cluttering and organizing – help your child to organize and de-clutter her/his brain as well. When your child has de-cluttered and organized her/his space – she he will feel better immediately and be able to focus better instantly.
Help your child to multitask right
Distractions are everywhere and in this fast paced world – it is difficult to ask children to focus on one thing at a time.
Plan such that your child can multitask during certain study times – but not during others.
Listening to music while revising formulas may be a good idea – but listening to music while learning a new concept for the first time may not be the best thing to do.
Help your child to deal with distractions
Especially with teens – it is important to cater for the distraction that devices and social media offer. In discussion with your child – create pockets of time during which your child can use devices. Asking for notes and checking whether someone has sent it or not should also be restricted to those pockets of time.
Do not isolate your child from friends
I cannot emphasize this point enough.
As parents we are prone to thinking that friends are a bad influence on our child’s life – but this is far from the truth.
Children need friends. Teenagers especially need friends to feel relaxed. No matter how close you may be to your teenager – you will not find a lot of things funny that another teen will and you will not be able to laugh the way your teen does with her/his friends.
Schedule time for your child to spend time with her /his friends. Friends can relieve the pressure of studies like nothing else can.
However, keep in mind that friends can also add to your child’s stress. So keep the channels of communication open and know what your child’s friends are saying or not saying.
Watch out for bullying – it may not be very obvious when it is done by friends. However it has a deep impact on the teen’s brain.
Do not compare
Comparisons are not motivating. They cause tremendous stress. Much of the academic stress that children and parents feel are rooted in the evil practice of comparing.
Believe in your child and keep working with her/him towards improving every day. Do not worry about what others are doing or not doing. Every child has a different destiny and must follow a different path. It is useless to compare.
Encourage your child to be nice
In our bid to keep our child ahead of others – we often inadvertently encourage our children to be devious and nasty. This is not good at all because being nasty and unkind causes tremendous stress which adds to the academic stress children already have.
Always encourage your child to be good, kind and trustworthy.
No. Nice people do not finish last. They finish when they are destined to but they enjoy their journey because they are nice.
Anxiety and stress increase exponentially in children who do not get enough sleep.
Ensure that your child gets enough sleep before and after study periods.
The brain needs sleep to able to focus on what is being learnt.
The brain also needs sleep to shift learnt material from short term memory so that studied material can be remembered for longer.
Also read My Kid Sleeps In The Class. What Should I Do?
Make sure your child has enough time to run, jump and play.
Accumulated excessive physical energy with depleted mental energy can cause immense stress.
Do not allow an imbalance between physical and mental energy in your child’s life.
Let your child play a fun non-competitive game with her/his friends where shouting screaming and laughing is allowed and there is no adult supervision – for at least a few hours in a day.
Also read If your child falls sick often ; he needs to sleep
Academic pressure is not something that we can wish away. Even if children do not take exams they will still be stressed because competing is a normal human characteristic. However if competition is seen in the right light and the work load in school is managed adequately – your child will not feel the pressure of studies.