School Stress: High Achievers

Children, especially adolescents, frequently deal with significant stress during their school years. They usually cite academic requirements, school transitions, peer relationships, and over-commitment as their most challenging issues. So it is notable that so-called high-achieving students, almost without exception, are able to excel despite such challenges [2].

Low achievers versus high achievers

There are high and low achievers in every school and the academic disparity between them can often be linked to differences in motivation.

Less accomplished individuals are often more motivated to avoid failure [1]. They try to protect themselves from failing important tasks and the feelings of embarrassment and incompetence which result. When it seems that something is unlikely to be a success, they quickly give up. If they can’t avoid it, they procrastinate or don`t give their best effort. For example, the night before an exam they might decide to clean their room or go to a party. To them, this serves as an excuse for less success or outright failure.

On the other hand, high-achieving students perform much better academically because they have strong motivation to achieve something that’s important and valuable to them, so they’re willing to put in significant, extended effort [1].

High achievers and high levels of stress

Sometimes the stress high-achieving students experience is underestimated. High achievers are often admired and people aren’t always aware of their inner struggles. They’re faced with demands and expectations from themselves, school, their parents, peers, etc. They are trying to be perfect in every area of their lives and cannot permit themselves to make mistakes.

Sometimes parents’ reaction to “not an A+” increases the feeling of stress. Too many parents think that the road to college starts in elementary school and that every grade counts. They ask themselves, How hard should I push my child to get better grades? This is precisely the wrong question. Pushing a child makes the situation even worse. By focusing only on grades, parents lose sight of the importance of social interaction in academic performance.What matters most are not grades, but the habits of mind that children form in elementary school: self-control, goal orientation, responsibility, persistence, and resilience [3].

Students may simply not communicate their distress to the adults who are invested in their achievement or non-achievement [2]. Be aware that the consequences of stress differ. Pay attention if their grades drop rapidly or if they have a high frequency of absences. Personal stress in gifted students can also manifest itself in other ways. They can still excel academically and in extra-curricular performance, but might quietly experience significant stress from heavy commitments in or outside of school. One way to maintain the same level of high performance is to cheat, so it shouldn’t be surprising that high achievers are more likely to cheat.

If you are the parent of a high-achieving child, we have some suggestions for you that will make it easier for you to recognize these “quiet” indicators and help your child handle the pressure through communication and coping strategies.

Ways to deal with the situation

Talk casually and often.

It’s a good idea to talk casually to your child about their feelings and how they’re managing high-stress times in the academic or extracurricular year. Don`t push it! Your efforts could boomerang and the student might withdraw even more. You also need to be aware that you are a role model for your child. So try openly discussing minor stresses you yourself encounter every day and show them that communicating your frustration can help – not only to relieve the stress but also to help find solutions.

Highlight your student’s strengths.

Gently comment when you see them “down” and offer credible comments about personal strengths and resilience. It could be crucial support at a time of vulnerability and reinforces your confidence in their ability to cope. You trust them.

Help a student find “me time”.

Don’t let them over-commit themselves. They need some unstructured, free time with their peers or alone. Model the behavior of taking care of yourself as a parent as well. They need to realize it’s okay to take “me time”. If they’re already over-committed, help them rethink their choices about extra-curricular activities and set priorities. Some activity has to take a back seat to a higher priority one, which will allow them to be even better at the one (or more) they’ve chosen.

Mistakes can be a path to success.

Help them understand that it’s okay to make mistakes and that sometimes mistakes are a learning opportunity. They can teach us to see the positive, and encourage initiative and growth. Expect to make mistakes. Try to persuade them not to judge themselves against others and help them recognize their own progress.

Sharing feelings is good.

Show them that admitting their worries and mistakes is a way to get them out of their head and get advice. Help them realize they aren’t the only ones feeling that way.

 

If you are having difficulty helping your high-achieving student cope with school stress, we have coaches who are trained to help students and their parents manage the demands of being a top performer in school.

 

References:

[1] Beuke, C. (2011, October 19). How Do High Achievers Really Think? Retrieved February 13, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/youre-hired/201110/how-do-high-achievers-really-think

[2] Peterson, J., Duncan, N., & Canady, K. (2009). A longitudinal study of negative life events, stress, and school experiences of gifted youth. Gifted Child Quarterly, 53(1), 34-49.

[3] Tough, P. (2013). How children succeed: grit, curiosity, and the hidden power of character. Boston: Mariner Books.

 

If you need any kind of advice related to stress connected to the school activities, you’ve come to the right place!

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