6 Ways to Reduce Pupil Stress (without a whole school mental health strategy)
This article is for all those schools who haven’t quite got their mental health act together yet, but who want to start moving in the right direction before the requirement for statutory provision arrives in 2020.
Here’s 6 ways to reduce pupil stress:
6. Appreciate the small stuff
Encourage pupils at all times to notice what is working and what is positive and to be appreciative of their own efforts. Rather than promoting an attitude of ‘don’t sweat the small stuff,’ help them pay attention to – and appreciate – the small stuff; and know what’s a big deal for them personally.
It could be something simple like handing their homework in on time, showing up for school, getting up on time, putting their hand up, trying to answer a question in class.
The more stressed a pupil feels, the harder this will be for them. So use this practice as a barometer of how stressed someone is and of who needs most help. Help them do this in every interaction, so that they can build their personal internal store of value.
5. Encourage failure
If this is freaking you out, stay with me. It took me over 55 years to embrace this one fully, so if you’re not catching on yet, there’s time.
Performance management and pay may be all about increasing student success in grades and pass rates, but helping a pupil to re-evaluate failure as part of a success strategy could be the best thing you ever do for them.
So many young people are afraid of ‘getting it wrong’ that they shy away from stretching themselves fully, from speaking up, from giving the answer they first thought of, from engaging in learning at all.
Get the class to celebrate failure together…explore things that go wrong and what they can learn from it (beyond NOT doing it again).
Award prizes for pupils or teams of pupils who can demonstrate most learning from making a mistake or getting the wrong answer.
They may be doubtful at first, but persist, let it catch on – and let them embrace it.
4. Be honest
The world will not end for your pupils if they fail an exam or get a lower grade than expected or miss out on one university. Neither will their future be ruined.
So don’t make them feel like it will. The truth is, those pass rates and grades are more about what your leadership team and (some) parents want. Be upfront and tell your pupils the truth.
Make it clear you will do everything in your power to support them in achieving the best they can achieve…but let them know that there are ALWAYS other options; and it is never too late to start over.
3. Reduce staff stress
With everyone so fixated on young people’s mental health, few are looking at the elephant in the room – staff stress.
To put this in context, think about how you feel when you’re around someone who is under pressure and stressed. You meet them everyday in the supermarket, in traffic, in queues, on the telephone and at home. And (unless you’ve already acquired mastery in your own sense of calm and mental well-being), the stress is infectious.
It makes sense that if you’re under pressure to perform, your pupils feel it too.
If there are no official school mechanisms in place, focus on yourself and the ripple effect you could initiate simply by taking that yoga class, learning (and practising) meditation or attending an external class on stress management.
Better still, push pressure back up the line – and make the commercial case for investing in mental wellbeing training and systems within the school.
Change starts with a single small step in a new direction.
2. Introduce daily meditation
Meditation needn’t be hard. It doesn’t have to involve chanting, incantation, breathing techniques, positive affirmation or music – and it doesn’t have to be long. The benefits, though are huge and proven.
Meditation can lead to an increase in the ability to emotionally regulate…and, if there’s one thing that’s difficult for the adolescent mind, it’s emotional regulation.
Make it a 5 minute daily registration or assembly activity; repeat after lunch.
1. Explain how the brain manages stress
This explanation underpins every interaction I ever have with young people under stress or suffering anxiety.
If you don’t know the basic neuroscience, invite someone who does. Explained in the right way and using plenty of metaphor, it isn’t complicated, anyone can understand it and it IS transformational.
In all my years working with people from all backgrounds and all walks of life, young and old, none have failed to understand or benefit.
As the penny starts to drop, young people start to see how it relates to them in their own lives, without any need to reveal or share anything personal or private.
They start to see ways they have been contributing to their own stress – and see that there is a way out.
Because, with early mental health intervention and mental wealth building, there is.
If you’re ready to discuss ways in which you can create an effective mental health programme for your school, get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 07722 162 016.