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Stressed-Out Kids

For many students, the first day of school is a fairly stressful experience.

Scholastic Parent & Child magazine editor-in-chief Judsen Culbreth details for CBS News the sources of stress and some possible solutions.


New schools, tough teachers, peer pressure, high parental expectations this list barely scratches the surface when it comes to all the things that can cause students' stress.

"Think about if you went to a new job every year and you had a new boss, new co-workers and new situations, new expectations, new job skills. It can be scary," says Culbreth.

And she points out that the stress triggers vary with age. What unsettles a kindergartner could be something so simple, so basic, a parent might not recognize the signs, she says.

A young child might be worried about how to button a coat or zipper. A crowded school bus might be intimidating for elementary school kids.

And as students get older, the worries change to teacher expectations, making school teams, peer pressure or bullies, she explains.

Parents underestimate children's stress, Culbreth says. "We don't take it as seriously as we should or don't know what is stressing them," she says.

Physical Signs

Symptoms of stress can be physical such as tense muscles, heavy breathing, headaches, insomnia, colds, fatigue, forgetfulness, nail biting or hair twirling, Culbreth says.

"Are they eating well? Some kids might get very quiet, which could be a sign of stress. Other kids might act out or be angry and irritable," she adds.

Parents should be vigilant observers of their children, suggests Culbreth.

"You have to play detective. Ask them, 'Is anything worrying you?' Talk and open up and try to pull it out. They will not say, "Mom, I'm so stressed out.' They don't even know the term," she points out.

Dealing With Stress

To help their kids, parents can show positive stress management by "telling kids when you've had a hard day and need five minutesto think pleasant thoughts," she suggests.

Parents can also minimize stress during the average school day by getting the morning off to a good start, being organized and setting a positive tone in the morning, she says.

"Also, the first week isn't a great time to make big changes. This isn't the time to move or get a new job or go on a business trip - if you can help it. Try to be there and be a comfort zone for your child," she notes.

Play is also a wonderful way to cope. So her advice is to cut off the TV and get outside. Activities such as coloring or reading allow children to use their imagination in a more constructive way, she says.

Detecting A Serious Condition

Monitor your child, says Culbreth. Keep up with what's going on emotionally. If symptoms last more than three to four dys, or if children start missing school because of stomachaches or headaches, and chronic or continuing problems, these are warning signs, she says.

Preventing Bullying
After the suicide of 14-year-old Andrew Rudy of Illinois, some wondered if bullying had triggered his actions. What can be done by schools, parents and other children to deal with bullying situations?

It's important to have conferences with the guidance counselor or teacher, especially at the beginning of the school year, says Culbreth.

"Let your teacher know what is stressing your kids and what the symptoms might be. Have her let you know if something is worrying your child," she says.

Finally "stress is contagious," says Culbreth. Parents may be the source of their child's stress. And if that is the case, parents should learn to manage their own stress, keep academic expectations realistic and listen to their children, she says.

Previously editor-in-chief of Working Mother magazine for 10 years, Culbreth serves on the board of directors of the Child Care Action Campaign and was a spokeswoman for the Family and Medical Leave Act.