Too Much Pressure

Do you have a child who is constantly stressed out? Consider these tips.

By Taylor Freeman, M.S., LPC, LMFT Group Innovation Manager | Feb 24, 2016
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This post is part of our “I’m Stumped: Our Answers to Your Common Parenting Dilemmas” series. For all of the posts in this series, click here.

Do you have a child who is constantly stressed out? Maybe she’s what you consider an over-achiever or a perfectionist, or maybe she’s just over-committed. Keeping busy and having extracurricular activities is great for kids and teens, but sometimes they can swing too far and find themselves in a giant world of stress.

What’s it like to be a stressed out teen in today’s world? Many of us have no idea the pressures our kids are facing. Academic and social pressures are very different for kids today than they were when we were younger. With everything we talk about, it’s important to chase the why. Ask yourself why your teen might be stressed out. Maybe school is academically harder this year than it was last year, especially if it’s a big jump, like the transition to high school. Maybe her social life is taking off and her friends are demanding more time and attention. Maybe she’s over-committed and signed up for too many activities. Maybe this season is particularly difficult but things will die down once soccer ends. 

I love this clip from the show Modern Family. It shows the mom, Claire, learning the true reality of her daughter Alex’s stress.

Like the clip shows, it is very important to be attuned to your child. You might start noticing that she’s never home for dinner, or that the light is still on in her room well into the night, or she’s generally short with you. Those are all good indicators that she’s under a lot of pressure.

Then, it’s important that you’re helping lessen the stress instead of escalating it. Are you unintentionally adding to the stress by harping on her for staying up too late working on her homework? Is your reaction to her stress actually stressful itself?

In the video clip, what actually helps in the end is the simple empathic response that the mom gives her daughter. She finally just sees and understands the pressure she’s under. Never underestimate how far empathy and understanding can go. When a child is feeling pressure, but also feeling nurtured and cared for, she can navigate that so much better than a child who feels pressure but then also feels stressed about her parent’s reaction to the pressure.

If your child is under pressure for a limited amount of time – say, a sports season – then consider this a great lesson in time management. She’ll have to learn how to get her homework done, play soccer, and have time for friends. There will certainly be growing pains as she adjusts to this rigorous schedule. But once the dust settles, it’s a good idea to have a discussion about it. Does she love soccer so much that she’s willing to have a little added stress during those three months? Did she notice that she stopped having fun because the stress was too much? Did she find that both soccer and art class were too much to do at the same time? What does she want to hold on to, and what does she want to let go?

Let your teenager make her own choices, even if you disagree (as long as there is no safety concern, of course!). If she says that she loves both soccer and art and can’t give either one up, then she can learn how to deal with the result of that decision. If she decides to quit an activity, don’t let your dreams of her future get in the way of her decisions. Provide empathy and support while fostering autonomy and accountability.

If the stress is never-ending, not linked to a certain time frame, then she may need additional help navigating it. You can still have the same discussion about choices – let her decide if she wants to give something up or change something about her current situation. But if she seems to have a level of perfectionism or anxiety around her normal daily tasks, she might need some additional support in the form of a school counselor, coach, or therapist.

Encourage your teen to find some time away from the activities that are causing stress. I know this is easier said than done, but if it’s as simple as dinner together as a family – no cell phones at the table, and no discussion about school during dinner – then that’s one hour of stress-free time in your child’s evening. You can also encourage her to volunteer on Saturday mornings, or join you for a walk after dinner, or schedule a family movie night. Anything that breaks her out of her bubble of stress is a great reminder that there’s more to the world than what she’s experiencing at this particular moment.

There’s no doubt about it – the teenage years can be stressful for kids. It’s just part of the job of being a teen. And we can’t do much to take it away, but we can definitely help by staying calm, present and supportive on the home-front.