Tue | Mar 21, 2023

It’s PEPeration time!

Stress management support for your PEP student and beyond

Published:Wednesday | March 15, 2023 | 12:30 AMDoneisha Burke/ - Guest Columnist
What exactly is stress? How do our kids experience it? What can be done to help them manage this stress as they prepare for PEP?
What exactly is stress? How do our kids experience it? What can be done to help them manage this stress as they prepare for PEP?

The time for the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) is upon us and while many parents are experiencing their own anxiety around their child’s preparedness and how they will perform, your child is experiencing stress related to the very same thing!

As a parent/guardian, I ask you to recall your own experiences with tests and exams. Chances are, a wave of feelings have overcome you in this moment. One such being stress.

What exactly is stress? How do our kids experience it? What can be done to help them manage this stress as they prepare for PEP?

First, stress is a normal human reaction experienced by everyone, regardless of age. It represents a feeling of physical or emotional tension originating from thoughts or events that make one feel angry, nervous or frustrated.

Not all stress is bad. Eustress is considered to be a positive and beneficial kind of stress. It is generally motivating, within one’s range of coping abilities and short term. It also motivates and energises one to meet their responsibilities and achieve their goals.

On the flip side, there is distress. It can induce anxiety, can be short or long term, is outside of one’s range of coping abilities, hinders performance and can lead to psychological and health problems.

I am sure one may be asking, “But what do children have to be stressed about?” Doing well in school is at the top of this list. No child going to school wants to fail; therefore, the desire to perform well academically is generally an important one.

Additionally, children with siblings, cousins or other close relatives may also be facing undue pressure via comparison from the adults in their lives. Children can also experience stress about making and keeping friends, a major psychosocial achievement of the school years. Living up to the expectations of others; namely, parents, teachers, coaches among others, represents yet another source of stress.

Finally, upheavals from COVID-19. While it is debatable whether COVID-19 is behind us or not, what is not up for the debate is the upheaval it created in the lives of our youth, several of whom are still readjusting to the return to the physical classroom.


When experiencing stress, children may not present in the same manner as adults would. Children are more likely to ‘Show vs Tell’, therefore, special observations to note include:

1. Feeling ‘sick’ (note timing and nature of illness)

2. Excess complaints about school

3. Irritability/moodiness

4. Crying

5. Sleep disturbances

6. Change in diet (overeating/undereating)

7. Clinginess

8. Withdrawing from activities

Prolonged exposure to distress compromises the body physically and mentally. Ongoing stressors could lead to regression, impaired learning, depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions if left unaddressed.


1. Say something: Express to your child when you see that something is bothering them. Let them know that you are aware and engage them in a discussion about what behaviours/feelings you have observed because you care about them and wish to understand.

2. Listen to your child: Now that your child is talking, listen. Do not feed them words or lead them. Be calm, attentive and interested in what they have to say, while not lecturing them, casting blame or being judgemental.

3. Put a label on it: Feelings that are expressed in words help to foster emotional awareness in children. It also helps to minimise the likelihood of acting out behaviours, as feelings can now be identified by name.

4. Reduce stress: (where possible): Some activities may be inducing stress. This may mean that practice and training may have to be limited in order to preserve time and energy for school-related assignments.

5. Family time: Initiate activities that you can do with your child or with the entire family. Outings, movies, indoor and outdoor games. There are countless benefits associated with play for children. Additionally, bonding is promoted.

6. You: Be patient; be present. You should be your child’s greatest advocate, exercise the necessary patience and presence that let them know you are a safe space.

7. Professional help: Sometimes those with the best intentions are ill-equipped to handle certain challenges. In times like these the help of a psychologist, school counsellor or other mental health professional should be sought.

Not to be forgotten, in order to provide your child with the necessary support, you’ve got to nourish, to flourish. As parents/guardians, managing your child’s stress may prove stressful, in those times seek support. Support from other parents, friends, professionals. Bond, games, story time and hanging out can have bidirectional benefit.

Finally, grant grace to both yourself and your child.

Additional information provided by www.hopkinsallchildrens.org

Doneisha Burke is an Associate Clinical Psychologist & Lecturer specialising in child, adolescent and youth development. Email feedback to burkepsych@gmail.com and columns@gleanerjm.com