Guest Column with Erica Frydenberg

January 11 / 52

Erica Frydenberg is an Associate Professor in Educational Psychology in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, and a Fellow of the Australian Psychological Society.  Her research focusses on early years and adolescent coping.

Returning to school after the holidays can be stressful for both students and parents.

Students entering Years 11 and 12 may feel particularly anxious about the workload ahead.  However, applying some positive psychology principles will help them manage the stress that often comes with the high workload. (Incidentally, these principles also apply for any of us facing particularly stressful or busy periods).

We know the students who do best at VCE are those who have clear goals.  Realistic and achievable daily and weekly goals help break the workload into manageable chunks. If those goals aren’t achieved, it is important students don’t blame themselves. Instead, encourage them to reflect on what could be done differently next time.

Identifying support networks and ways to relax are particularly important for young people under pressure. The minute they identify who to go to for help, they will feel more secure. We recommend young people identify five people who can support them. Some of those people might provide assistance, others advice, and others may be people to spend leisure time with.

It’s also important young people identify activities which give them pleasure, such as listening to music or outings with friends, and ensure they balance studying with these activities. In particular, we advise mindful use of social networking as it can easily ‘suck’ time and actually add more pressure. We suggest students factor in a reasonable amount of daily time for social networking, and stick to it.

It’s really important parents of children of all ages make themselves available to hear about their child’s day, and greet them cheerfully. Being available doesn’t mean you have to be standing at the school gate, but if you have returned home after a busy day at work, make sure you offer a mutually acceptable time to sit down with your child and hear about their day. Always ask questions without probing beyond the point of what seems comfortable for the young person.

My final tip for parents as children return to school is to be aware of changes in your child’s demeanor, which could be a sign that they are struggling with something at school.

You will know your child’s signals better than anyone, so if your usually outgoing child is suddenly withdrawn, or your child who usually sleeps or eats well stops doing so, it could be a sign they are having difficulties or struggling at school. Reluctance to attend is, of course, another sign.

If you find yourself in this position, acknowledge you recognise something is concerning your child and ask questions without pushing too hard. A simple question along with indicating a willingness to help will suffice. If you don’t receive a response straight away, indicate you’re available to talk in their time.


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