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Helping Kids Adjust Expectations to Improve Stress Management

It’s back to school time, which can mean stress for parents and students. Our culture celebrates achievement, being busy, and multitasking. Many kids have unrealistic expectations about what they should be achieving, or how easily they should be achieving these things.

Setting expectations is an important part of helping students prepare for and manage inevitable setbacks and challenges.

Parents can help their kids set expectations in the following areas, and return to discuss these areas throughout the school year:

Social Expectations

Questions to ask your child:

- How many and what kinds of friendships do you expect to have?

- What are some challenging friendship issues that may come up?

- How will you use social media, and what limits do you want to place on social media?

Spending too much time on social media can lead to feeling disconnected and lonely. Loneliness is linked to anxiety and depression. It’s possible to feel very lonely even if you’re around people frequently and have hundreds of friends on social media. Some kids are naturally more introverted, and comparison with their extroverted peers may cause feelings of social dissatisfaction. At this stage of life, social challenges come up often, so preparing for them is crucial.

Failure/Success Expectations

Questions to ask your child:

- What does it mean to fail at something?

- How will you cope when you fail?

- How can you use failure to learn and grow?

Failure is inevitable. Not getting chosen for the school play, not making the team, struggling with a class, or even social difficulties are all normal parts of growing up. Parents can help re-frame failure as a learning opportunity. Discuss what went wrong and how to improve the next time. Learning to cope well with failure takes multiple repetitions, as well as having parents who model healthy coping with failure skills.

Time Management Expectations

Questions to ask your child:

What activities are relaxing and fulfilling, and how much of this do you need each day?

How much time do you need to allot for sleeping, studying, chores, and socializing?

What would you like to change this year about how you manage your time and responsibilities?

Over time, children should gain more autonomy over their schoolwork and schedule. Young children need a lot of guidance, but over time parents should let their children have more control, even it means making mistakes. Each child is different in how much guidance they need, so work with your child to identify ways to slowly increase their control over their schedule and responsibilities. Managing time is often a trial and error approach, so have your kids think about what has and had not worked for them.


Relaxation is essential to productivity and stress management. Help your child identify activities that are relaxing and rejuvenating breaks from studying. Watching television or using social media are often used as study breaks, but these activities may not be the best use of time. Ask your child whether they feel energized, relaxed, and ready to study after engaging in their chosen study break activity. If not, consider other options, including listening to music, drawing, exercising, spending time in nature, or a creative outlet.

Developing realistic expectations is one important part of coping with stress. Try working with your child to set and manage expectations in the three areas described above. With consistent effort, you can help your child learn to cope with stress, setbacks, and challenges.

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About the Author

Julia Becker

Julia Becker


 Dr. Becker is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Waco, TX. She provides counseling to adults and adolescents dealing with depression, anxiety, relationship concerns, and life stress. Dr. Becker is passionate about helping others, and she believes that counseling is beneficial for anyone who desires to have a happier, healthier, and more fulfilling life. You can reach her by visiting her websiteblog or Facebook page

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