03-13-2022 01:27 AM - last edited on 03-14-2022 03:58 PM by Philippa-RO
My 15-year-old boy is a high achiever. Very bright, dux of his year, pursues everything he does with dedication and tenacity. And he is a great kid; honest, kind, loyal and caring.
Like a lot of kids who are high achievers, he is a perfectionist and very much prone to anxiety. That manifests socially as well as with his study, and other things he does as well. For example, he loves tennis, has been playing since was young and is very good at it, but has had to stop competing because the pressure he puts on himself was becoming unhealthy. He still plays, but playing socially rather than competitively means that it’s an outlet for him rather than a source of stress.
He wants to be a doctor when he is older, and he knows that will require a lot of study. So he works really hard to maintain good grades.
He does not manage stress well. He puts SO MUCH pressure on himself… to the point of worrying himself sick over just about every assessment. And he gets so negative about it, everything I say to him is met with negativity, every suggestion with a response that it won’t work, and honestly it’s frustrating and exhausting.
I’m studying myself, completing a masters whilst working full time, so I do understand stress. I’ve become pretty good at managing it, and I try to use my experience to help him. But all I get back is well I tried that and it doesn’t work for me, or I’m different to you, or some other pessimistic response. He’s previously seen a psychologist but didn’t find that helpful and doesn’t want to try again with a different one.
I can’t go through this with him every time he has an assessment, and tonight I got angry with him about it when the exact same scenario played out for the hundredth time over an upcoming maths test.
I can’t imagine how he will possibly manage to get through the remainder of high school, let alone a medical degree, with that approach. This is the hardest school year yet for him, but it is literally the easiest it’s ever going to be from here on out if he pursues the academic career he wants. I do believe 100% that he is capable of achieving his dreams. I am just at an absolute loss as to how to help him develop some coping mechanisms. He simply will not manage if he doesn’t learn to cope with stress in a healthy way.
Ultimately all I want is for him to be happy. The pressure he puts on himself is harmful, and it comes entirely from him - we have always told and shown him that we’re proud of him, and that pride is not contingent on top grades.
I would love hear how others have dealt with this…
03-13-2022 03:55 PM
Hello @NLSBH and welcome to the forums. Thanks for sharing your story with us here, it is great that you have reached out for some support. I am sorry to hear that you are feeling at a loss with how you can continue to support your son in managing stress and academic pressure. It sounds like you have been supporting your son well throughout this and that you care a lot about him and his mental health.
Pressure from grades and perfectionism can be really hard to manage when it comes to schooling. It sucks to hear that he has been worrying himself sick and that this stress has been having such an impact on him. Unfortunately, teenagers stressing over school and grades can be quite a common occurrence, so we actually have a few articles about this that you might find to be helpful. Here is an article on how to help your child develop some coping strategies and here is another on how to manage stress with relaxation strategies.
You mentioned that your son had reached out to a psychologist for support before which is really great! Its unfortunate that he does not want to see another psychologist, but understandable as sometimes meeting new people can be difficult. If he feels like he would like to talk with someone about what he is going through in the future, there are services like Kids Helpline and Headspace that offer free and confidential telephone and online/chat counselling. Hope this helps!
03-16-2022 10:40 AM
I hear you!!
It’s great that you are trying to alleviate this now. Exercise, like tennis, is a great outlet. In fact, when our son acted like this we would tell him to get on his bike. Neuroscience shows that exercise consolidates learning so he might like this idea. This and hydration increase dopamine production.
Another avenue to consider is volunteering or giving back to the community in some way. We found that putting someone or something else’s needs first helped him prioritise and be realistic. Through Scouts they did a lot, especially environmentally. Other kids like helping at the animal shelter, recycling, food vans etc. I know our local aged care centre is asking for people to play chess or read with residents. These are all good skills for a future doctor. It doesn’t have to be weekly and could be school based. We just found our son improved when he saw how lucky he was.
Another option we are considering is EMDR with a psychologist to reduce anxiety but you have to find the right person.
03-16-2022 03:02 PM
Thanks so much for sharing your experience and support. These are some fantastic pieces of advice, and I'm so glad to hear they helped your son when he was struggling. It's really amazing what having an outlet like exercise or a connection to others can do for young people. And as you say, all skills that will ultimately help them in their future too!