Faced with more school work and tough exams, children are succumbing to stress and its harmful effects.

Feeling stress is a fact of life for most people. However, too much or prolonged stress can have detrimental effects on the mind and body.

Unfortunately, even youngsters are beginning to fall victim to the damaging effects of stress. Statistics regarding childhood and adolescent depression and anxiety are startling; adolescent suicide alone has quadrupled in the last 50 years.

Stress manifests itself in many ways; in the classroom, it can exhibit as learning difficulties such as lack of attention or concentration and forgetfulness, socialisation problems such as difficulty in interacting with other children and expressing one’s feelings. Children who are aggressive or disruptive, who pick fights with other children or engage in bullying too may be reacting to the stress in their lives.

Matching soaring cut-offs and acing entrance exams have now become the be-all and end-all of a child’s growing years. Children spend most of their time in school and the weightage given to exams and grades is at an all-time high.

Unfortunately, our educational system today is not geared to cater to the average student and the constant pressure to perform well academically can often overpower the child’s self-control and affect its self-esteem.

The emphasis on competition gives rise to a number of psychological problems.  Classroom stress negatively affects the child’s performance and the manner in which it behaves. Some children may be too scared to ask or answer questions, or even ask to use the washroom. Children who are experiencing distress engage in avoidance behaviour; they may make excuses to skip school and withdraw from friends and family as well. In fact, such children fall ill more often and may experience frequent headaches, gastric difficulties and body ache.

The first step towards reducing stress in the classroom is to identify the stressors. The classroom should have a comfortable environment where the child feels free to discuss its problems fearlessly. When a student expresses a concern, validate his/her feelings. Criticism, if constructive, is important; however, it must always be in private, whether about their academics or their behaviour. To single out a child can be detrimental to his/her self-confidence.

Teacher-student ratios and the extent of the syllabus are challenges every teacher has to face. However, if a child is in distress, it’s important to spend time to understand his/her concerns and provide the support they need to cope.

At the same time, teachers must spend some time in their class to focus on life-skills education; foster emotional understanding, assertiveness, empathy, problem solving, critical thinking and decision-making skills in children to help them face the challenges that life will forever toss their way.