Thinking about the upcoming school year and all the requisite to-do’s is daunting to both students and parents alike. Here are six steps that a student can follow to reduce their stress load:
1. Remember the Fun. Most students start off looking forward to the school year because they get to see friends that they have missed all summer; unfortunately, this excitement and energy may only last for the first week. To stay motivated and excited for school, students should find fun events to look forward to that will keep their energy high throughout the school year: dances, sporting events, mathlete competitions, theater performances, or birthdays can be great reference points to orient goals around throughout the year.
2. Make Goals. Once students have their events picked, they should work together with their parents or counselor to set challenging but realistic short and long-term goals. Setting goals is a great way for students to check in on their achievements as the school year progresses. Realistic goals are crucial because if a student tries his or her hardest and still cannot achieve what he or she set out to do, it can be frustrating and demoralizing. Likewise, students should not set goals that are too easy to achieve. Goals can be for academics as a whole (GPA, taking ‘x’ number of classes, etc.), or goals can be geared toward individual classes (grades on tests, completing homework on time, or attaining a particular score on an AP test). Good short-term goals should range from one-week to one-month to complete, and good long-term goals should range from a semester to the entire school year to achieve. Once students complete a goal, they should recognize their achievement in some fashion – ice cream, new clothes, etc. – and immediately set a new goal. When setting goals, the most pertinent aspect to remember is that when parents are helping a student create goals, the goals must be what the student wants and not what the parent wants. In order for students to stay motivated toward their goals, they need to own the creative process of setting goals.
3. Take time to plan. After creating goals, many students will have a difficult time implementing them. Anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour a week should be devoted to planning out a student’s week (how they will take care of necessary to-do items) and creating new goals to replace his or her completed ones. Although goals are mainly scholastically oriented, students often have more than just school to focus on – they shouldn’t forget to take into account their extracurricular activities. Sometimes a student may spread herself too thin, so creating pragmatic time solutions can help. Parents and counselors can help students plan, but they need to remember the overarching goal: helping students learn time management and how to prioritize tasks. After a few weeks, students will begin to realize how much time and effort they should put forth to accomplish their goals.
4. Utilize Resources. Now that students have goals to reach, they need to build a path to achieve their goals. It can be very embarrassing for anyone to admit they are struggling with a class or subject, so making sure a student knows what resources are available to them can make asking for help easier. Everyday, students are surrounded by resources to help them with school: teachers, friends, parents, and counselors. Teachers often make themselves available to answer questions about material they have covered. Friends can hold study sessions where they can discuss strategies. Tutors are always available to help reinforce the material the teachers have taught. Students should find a mentor who connects with them, as well as who makes them feel comfortable to ask questions and talk about any troubles they are having inside or outside of school. Studying should be made as fun and exciting as possible to keep students interested in their classes.
5. Find Balance. Although school and extracurricular activities require a lot of time, it is important to realize that life requires balance. It is imperative that students have a good attitude and enough energy to complete their studies and activities to the best of their abilities. A healthy diet, an ample amount of sleep, and free time with friends can help increase a student's energy level as well as attitude. Not every hour must be scheduled. Parents and counselors alike should reassure students that taking personal time is okay and often more beneficial than trying to push through an exam when feeling tired or upset. It will take time for a student to understand what amount of free time each week is needed and appropriate.
6. Reevaluate. When things go awry, assignments go uncompleted or goals are set too high to reach, it will be difficult for a student to remain focused. This is when all long-term and short-term goals should be reevaluated as reasonable or unreasonable. Parents and students should take a step back, breathe, and then proceed with their adjusted plan. It’s ok to make adjustments, and it’s even encouraged. The reevaluation and planning stages go hand in hand. As students plan an upcoming week, they should evaluate how their previous plan helped them, or didn't help them, through the week. Students should evaluate their previous plans to improve future plans because learning from both failures and successes is critical to building self-confidence as they move toward college-life and adulthood. Following these six steps will help reduce a student’s stress while improving his or her chance of success and preparedness throughout the school year. Remember parents: a student’s high school years can be the most stressful time of his or her life. Helping a student succeed by supporting his or her mental health and keeping him or her positively motivated is the best thing a parent can do.