Stress in Children: How Pressure Affects Kids

stress in children

Those with a goal live their life on the road to greater achievement, day in and day out. They must put the utmost energy toward reaching their goals—ones they’ve either set for themselves or ones that others set for them. Unfortunately, obstacles, hardships, and deadlines often pave the road to achievement. We’ve all had to face them, learn from them, and move on. Growing children who’re just learning to meet these challenges may feel extremely pressured to succeed by the world around them. Stress in children is something we absolutely want to avoid. So how exactly does academic pressure affect kids, and what’s the best way to encourage children who are under pressure?


Stress in Children and The Effects of Academic Pressure


Pressure affects everyone to some degree—young tots, college students, senior citizens. Princeton Psychologist, Sam Gluckberg, conducted an interesting experiment emphasizing the effects of pressure on human performance: Between two independent group-types who were required to complete the same task, one group was promised to receive x amount of dollars if the task was completed under a certain amount of time. Oddly enough, the groups that were promised a reward for their deeds performed far worse than their counterparts. Why is that? The invitation of pressure had affected the thinking process in the brains of the slower groups.


The short form explanation relates to two things known as extrinsic and intrinsic motivators. Extrinsic meaning coming from the outside (like being motivated by money), intrinsic meaning coming from within. While human beings are great at completing narrow-focused straightforward tasks under extrinsic motivation, they compromise their capacity for creative problem-solving with mechanical behavior. In effect, too much pressure can create too much focus which can thus prevent us from learning as effectively! It also influences our emotional states, which play a big role in our learning. Pressure is more than just the fact of doing it—it changes the way in which we do it. If not careful, this pressure can quickly develop into stress in children. 



How to Encourage Students Under Pressure


So, imagine you are a young child who absolutely must fulfill the wishes of your teachers, parents, or otherwise. Imagine you were told how important it is for you to succeed in a certain way, by a certain time. Even more so, imagine you are threatened with punishment or consequence if you do not live up to the expectations of those around you. That feels really tough, right? It’s easy to see how the brain becomes robotic and stagnant when we force it to focus in order to reach the “finish line.”


What matters most is perspective. Without some guidance, guidelines become overwhelming and deadlines become doomsdays. As a teacher or parent, it’s very important to encourage kids to perform for their own sake. We should try not to reinforce difficulty by constant pressure but soften it with genuine encouragement. When kids can turn their extrinsic motivation into a balance of both that and intrinsic motivation, they will find fulfillment in their learning journey.


One way to do this is to focus on a child’s independence when it comes to learning. Take for example a child who’s faced with a challenging task. Perhaps there is pressure within the child to be something they are naturally not. Maybe they wish to find organic ease where there is mostly difficulty. In this case, the teacher can guide the learner through the steps of growth and improvement, and then allow them to continue to their own extent. In the end, it is up to the kids to remember what help their elders offered, and build upon that advice. All the while, be sure to inspire their own ability to create a better version of themselves.


Children do well to see things as a game. Learning can be the same. Not only does this wipe away some of the pressure and fear of losing, it reminds them that they can try many times over and over. Help them focus on smaller achievements first so that they may learn to experience independent success. When they realize they are not in their comfort zone, remind them that the comfort zone is the worst place to be! It’s essential to suggest the habit of getting past the “difficult now” for the “better later.” Reward kids for their small successes—be it for a gift or a consequence, make the journey and the effort about the moment.