Helping Teens Cope with Academic Stress

A mother helps daughter with homework

There is so much excitement just around the corner: holidays, school breaks, and parties; but with all the fun often comes a lot of stress. Our kids will be preparing for finals, college applications, ACT exams in the middle of all the end of year excitement. These next few months are full of emotion and deadlines; the perfect recipe for stress and burn out. As parents we often know it’s coming but don’t know what to do to stop it. Here are a few tips to know what you’re looking for and how to help.   

 As due dates come and go there will certainly be stress in your teen’s life; but as a parent we want to watch for the shift from some expected pressure to sustained changes in mood or behavior due to stress. Keep an eye on these behaviors, and if warning signs start to pop up check in with your child in a supportive, rather than critical, way. 

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Changes in behavior or diet
  • Sustained anger or irritability
  • Frequent illness or physical complaints
  • Lack of follow through

What can you do to help? If the warning signs are there or your teen is aware and tells you they are feeling significant stress, there are steps you can take. When everyone is ready to talk sit down together and put some things in place to help ease their burden. 

Help your teen set small, achievable goals. As the saying goes: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Help your child prioritize and chip away at their work. Lists, calendars, or schedules can be a game changer. When people imagine everything they need to get done in the next few weeks it can become overwhelming. Help your kids organize work in order of priority. For example: category A: must do today. B: must do this week. C: must do by the end of the month. Another option for organization may be to sit down together each Monday and review their to-do list over a bowl of ice cream. Once your teen can see a clear path forward the stress starts to drop and they are often able to tackle the work.

Cheer them on. As parents we worry, it’s part of the job, but try your best to not transfer your anxiety about your teens test score, deadline, or missing assignment onto them. When we spend excess energy worrying there are a few negative outcomes. First, our teens often take on our worry and it contributes to their stress. If WE think they can’t do it, THEY think they can’t do it. Instead of passing along your stress, show them your confidence in their skills and their ability to manage challenges as they arise. Second, if we aren’t careful the parent/child conflict often becomes the focus of energy and attention. For example, rather than studying for that exam, they spend all afternoon bickering with you about the to-do list and suddenly there isn’t time to get things done…see what happened there? Instead, be on their team and when the intensity grows to be too much for either of you take a break and allow them to be responsible for their own choices. 

Mix in some fun. Make sure to schedule in frequent breaks, mindless relaxation time, and family/friend fun. You know your teen well but don’t forget to ask them what they want to prioritize. At a calm time, come together to do some planning and make sure to value their priorities. To you, that movie night, or the football game may not feel as important as that missing assignment or raising their ACT one more point, but it means a lot to them. When our kids feel heard they are more likely to work with you; so find some compromise.

Protect the relationship. Even when things seem too far gone, remember that your relationship with your child will last a lot longer than your memory of their 2nd quarter GPA. Yes, grades matter and yes colleges are looking but their self-confidence and family relationships have a much longer impact on their live than their high school GPA. Hold them accountable but remember that there will always be more projects and deadlines in their life and we want to be seen as a support rather than a stressor in times of difficulty. Even if things aren’t working out as you’d hoped, try to keep the line of communication open because when the stress settles, we always want them to know we are there.  

Get help. If your relationship with your teen is struggling due to stress it may be time to bring in some back up. A tutor, teacher, or their mathematician aunt may be able to step in as a support. With an extra helping hand you are able to maintain the connection with your child and know they are getting the help they need. Lastly, if a short period of stress seems to turn into longer periods of anxiety and sadness, or you recognize a pattern of difficulty coping with stress, you may want to speak with your child’s doctor or counselor about next steps. 

Teens have a lot on their plate but with our support, they can learn to cope with stress as it comes. As a parent you have a front row seat to the late exhausting nights but also the joy when the project is completed, or those applications are all in the mail. Don’t lose hope as you watch them work and remember that all these experiences can build resiliency so when the next stress hits, they can be ready to rise to the challenge. 

Families First Pediatric Counseling & Therapy Services

Sometimes taking the first step is a challenge but Families First Pediatrics is here to help by providing you and your family the appropriate mental health services that your family needs. Contact us at one of our pediatric locations:

South Jordan

Phone:  (801) 254-9700


Phone: (801) 987-8541


Phone: (801) 515-5808

Mandi Biesinger, LCSW

Mandi Biesinger, LCSW

Mandi is a therapist in our South Jordan Counseling office.

a happy father receives a kiss from his son

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