How to help students deal with stress and anxiety in Shanghai

Now more than ever it's important to know how to help kids cope with mental health

It’s a very different world than even ten or 15 years ago for kids out there. What with things like increased pressure on the university application process, college visits, great grades and high academic performance on top of the social intricacies of being a teenager, there's a lot to stress young people out. Director of Wellbeing at Wellington College International Shanghai Jo Evans speaks to us about how to help students deal with modern-day anxiety.

Now, more than ever, is the time to be talking about mental health in kids
'As the stigma surrounding mental health issues decreases, opportunity for discussion of a once-taboo subject is generating a greater understanding about the causes of stress and anxiety – particularly in young people. It would be unfair to expect young people to avoid stress completely given the increasingly fast-paced world that we live in. What is vital, however, is that they learn how to cope with stress and anxiety and that parents and communities know how to support young people.'

What are some of the main Shanghai stressors?
'One significant cause of stress and anxiety experienced by young people is in relation to study and, in particular, exams. Whilst this is a concern at specific times of the year, it is worth noting that the adverse effects of stress are more prevalent in young people living within international and expat communities because of the demands that come with this way of living. Friendship groups can change frequently as people move with greater regularity. Being apart from extended family in home countries and consequent issues with identity can cause significant anxiety, particularly in teenagers. Whilst we cannot avoid many of these situations, schools and parents can be open and honest about transition and the feelings surrounding it, both positive and negative.'

A positive communication routine is key
'Communication is key to any support, at home or school. We know that young people are often reluctant to talk about their feelings with adults for fear of being judged. The same is perhaps true for adults. Because of this, it is vital that parents establish a positive communication routine at home so that problems can be discussed at an early stage and quickly addressed to prevent them becoming larger obstacles at a later date.'

Parents should avoid trying to ‘fix’ the problem
'The difficulty many parents have when talking to their children who are experiencing anxiety or stress is in feeling the need to ‘fix’ the problem by telling young people what to do. Often the things that young people get anxious or upset over may seem trivial to adults, but it is worth remembering that those feelings are very real to youngsters and should be always treated as valid and not dismissed. Many times, the solution for the parent does not fit the child’s needs; this may cause frustration and a reluctance to open up about a problem in the future. Open questioning and coaching can help discussion move towards a self-directed solution and can be a very powerful tool in helping to build up trust. If there is a culture of open and non-judgmental communication, then changes in behaviour from the usual can be seen, discussed and appropriate action taken to minimise the impact of any worries.'

How to help your student cope with stress and anxiety
'It is no secret that a good diet, exercise, relaxation, sleep and the security of a supportive network of family, friends and trusted adults can help build resilience in young people. All of these aspects of developing a "psychological immune system" make up part of the Wellbeing curriculum at Wellington. We recognise that, in order to achieve academic excellence, we must first ensure that our pupils are happy, healthy and resilient. Education is more than academics. It is with that in mind that we consider the family discussions around the dinner table, a rainy afternoon spent bowling, or a spring-time Mobike adventure around Shanghai as being of as much importance as the academic work our pupils do. At Wellington, our values as a College recognise that having fun, and spending time building relationships with our family and friends, is as much a part of preparation for the future as achieving good grades.'