How to Manage Stress in School at Every Grade Level

7 min to read
A young boy taking notes in his online class

Whether it’s test day, a major assignment is due, the Internet is down, or things just aren’t going as planned, school-related stress can affect students of all ages. Fortunately, there are unique opportunities for Learning Coaches and students in online school to identify the symptoms of stress and learn how to manage stress in school. 

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What Causes Stress in School Students?

The Mayo Clinic reassures parents that experiencing stress, while unpleasant, is a normal reaction to all types of challenging situations. Anything from a new routine, test anticipation, challenging assignments, social pressures, a busy schedule, arguments with siblings, or even just being tired can trigger stress in school students. Students can even stress over positive events, like accepting an achievement award or going on vacation. 

Some students experience stress as a motivating factor, while for others, it can severely disrupt the school day. Prolonged stress can adversely impact health and academic performance. 


Symptoms of Stress in School Students

The first thing to know about how to manage stress in school is how to identify the signs and symptoms of stress. Stress manifests differently from person to person. According to KidsHealth®, these are a few of the more common symptoms of stress in children: 

  • Mood swings 
  • Acting out 
  • Headaches 
  • Stomachaches 
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Developing self-soothing habits 
  • Becoming withdrawn 
  • Difficulty sleeping or nightmares 
  • A sudden change in academic performance 

Learning how to manage stress in school helps students become resilient adults. Here are our favorite tips for how to get less stressed in school. Although meant to reduce stress for students in elementary, middle, and high school, these techniques can help students, and even adults, of all ages. 


How to Manage Stress in Elementary School Students

Younger elementary school students are mostly getting used to the routine of the school day. But in later elementary grades, the responsibilities required of schoolwork and thoughts of disappointing parents or teachers can be stressful. Teaching students at this age how to manage stress in school can help them adjust to online, virtual, or traditional schooling without getting overwhelmed. 


Listen to calming music when it’s time to focus.

Music can help young learners get used to moving from one task to another. Music can also help students study. Try getting ready for the school day with upbeat music and switching to instrumental or downtempo music when working on individual assignments that require focus.  


Plan breaks to do things that aren’t school-related.

It’s unrealistic to expect a first- or second-grader to sit still through a full day of live virtual lessons. That’s why it’s important to schedule snack breaks, playtime, game time, or other activities that are not learning-focused throughout the day. Stress-management games for students can be as simple as taking a break to play a card or board game before beginning the next lesson. Set time limits for breaks so that students know when it’s time to move on to the next task. 


Relax and learn mindfulness through sensory experiences.

One of the best ways to reduce stress for students is through mindful activities that activate the senses, taking the focus away from whatever is causing stress at the moment. Sensory activities for children include playing with modeling clay or Play-Doh, playing in a sandbox, going on a nature walk, painting, making lunch together, sorting objects or toys, or even playing a musical instrument. Weighted blankets, wobble stools, and headphones can also be a part of a calming sensory classroom for young children to increase focus and reduce stress. 


How to Manage Stress in Middle School Students

As students advance to middle school, they begin to take on more challenging classes. Middle school students may also experience social pressure in school, so planning activities designed to reduce stress for students this age can be extremely important. 


Exercise during the school day to release endorphins.

Most, but not all, U.S. middle schools still offer physical education (PE) programs to help children meet recommended levels of physical activity. Some students at Connections Academy play organized sports or engage in serious athletic training as a part of their daily schedule. Exercise doesn’t have to be extremely structured to make a difference. A simple activity, like taking a walk or bike ride around the neighborhood, can help students blow off steam before their next class. 


Practice asking teachers and other adults for help.

Students sometimes have a hard time speaking up in class, particularly at middle school age. Students can overcome the challenges of speaking out and build their support networks at school by learning to ask for help. Online students have access to their Learning Coach, teachers, and school counselors at Connections Academy when they have a question or need extra help. 

You can help a shy child by rehearsing sample situations or helping them create some scripted things to say. Talk to your child’s teachers about what you’ll be doing to help your child, so you’ll be on the same page. Asking for help gives students a new perspective, lets them know they are not alone, and encourages them to keep looking for solutions when things get tough. 


Relax before bedtime and get plenty of sleep.

Ensuring that your child is getting enough sleep often goes a long way toward managing stress in school. Kids 6–13 years old should get 9–11 hours of sleep each night and teens need 8–10 hours.To ensure a restful night of sleep, students should take time to wind down before going to bed. Limiting use of technology and exposure to blue light i.e., screens—right before bed and talking out any current worries are two steps toward better sleep. 


How to Manage Stress in High School Students

High school students enjoy an increased level of independence, but they are also preparing for graduation, and beyond that, college, service, or the workforce. Add the social life and peer pressure that accompany the teenage years, and you have the main causes of stress in high school. In addition to continuing the stress management techniques above, especially getting enough exercise and sleep, building resilience is a big part of how to manage stress in high school students. 


Break large assignments into smaller, more manageable tasks.

One of the most important skills a high school student can learn that will help to reduce stress is time management. Students should create a schedule that prioritizes their assignments, live virtual classes, extracurriculars, and other tasks to ensure they can get everything done in a timely manner. Daily planning can become part of a morning routine, or those who like to get a head start might schedule time at the beginning of each week. Having a plan can keep students from finding themselves overwhelmed by multitasking. For larger projects, setting mini goals for completing parts of the overall assignment can help reduce stress and guard against procrastination. Want to give it a try? Check out these five sample online school schedules


Use checklists and celebrate the day’s accomplishments.

Checking off a task on a list is a simple yet incredibly effective positive reinforcement. And everything is less stressful when you feel like things are going well. Daily checklists and journaling can reassure students when stress starts to creep in. Reflecting on accomplishments at the end of the day can motivate students to get back at it tomorrow. Using these stress-management tools will remind students what is within their control so they can chip away at their to-do lists instead of worrying. 


 Be a part of the community.

A high school student who feels like they are part of something bigger than themselves will have less inclination to look inward and stress. Teens feel like they are not alone and have a role to play when they are connected to a diverse group of friends and reach beyond their social groups by volunteering, coaching / mentoring younger students, or working a part-time job. Being involved in the community around them gives high school students more incentive to overcome setbacks and to remain optimistic that they ultimately control their academic careers.  

Getting started with these activities is an easy way to begin to reduce stress for students of all ages. And Connections Academy is here to help. Our online Resource Hub is all about helping you create a stimulating learning environment and community that fosters achievement, growth, and resiliency for your online student. 

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