Under pressure – #cmhw17

pressure on children at school

School is currently causing my child stress and anxiety.

There. I said it.

It pains me to lay it out so bare, and so dramatically, but the pain of writing it down is nothing in comparison to seeing your child crying and in pieces over the stress of school.

How old is my son? 15? Nearing GCSE age?

No. He is 8. At 8 years old, he is already feeling the pressures and strains of school life and it is having an impact on him at home, as well as at school. It’s clear to see how much he is worrying on a daily basis. Nerves about going to school, crying and hitting himself on the head when he gets something wrong, calling himself stupid, frustration issues and just generally panicking about things that an 8 year old shouldn’t even have to be worrying about in my eyes.

I don’t think it is too overdramatic to conclude that school his having an impact on my child’s mental health, and that can’t be right, can it?

This week is Children’s Mental Health week. I have read a few articles about school stress and it’s impact on children and, sadly, they really resonated with me.

Every day at the moment I see the emotional pain etched on Luke’s face as he comes out of school. I’ll say it again, he is only 8. Why on earth is this happening?!

Government targets and guidelines have taken over our teachers lives as well as our children’s to the point that it is breaking both parties. Teachers cannot cope with the relentless targets, meeting of statistics and requirements and box ticking, and the children can’t cope with the pressure of having to meet these idealised the targets either. I know people myself, highly educated, talented people, who are teachers. They currently cannot see a way forwards, nor a future for themselves, in teaching anymore. Does that in itself not ring alarm bells with the powers that be? How can the children be happy when the teachers are unhappy?

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a dig at my sons school or teacher, I truly appreciate the work they do and the stresses they are under. I have seen the hours they put in, the backlash they get from parents of pupils when an objection has been made regarding something they have said or done. It’s a thankless job, and one that is getting tougher. But, all of that put aside, something is going very wrong somewhere when my normally happy 8 year old is coming home and crying about how bad school was.

“We got shouted at a lot today”.

“I got my times tables wrong today”.

“People weren’t listening in class today and it made our teacher cross with everyone”.

“I didn’t get all my spellings right today”.

“I got told off for not asking for help with something but I have also been told not to ask for help straight away so I can challenge myself. I’m confused mummy. What should I have done?”

These are just a few of the things my son has said to me this week as he comes out of school.

Little, often seemingly insignificant, things that happen to a child during the day but they can all mount up and fast become an all consuming blanket of doom where a child is concerned.

Luke thrives on praise. He isn’t very confident, he is full of self doubt and is very sensitive. This means anything that is said to him, even flippantly, is stored in that little brain box of his for a very long time. He does not forget words. This means it is particularly difficult for him to get past what has been said and see anything else other than that. For example;

“Come on Luke! You can do this 8 times table no trouble. Let’s do it slowly together first,” I say.

“I can’t do it mummy. I’m stupid and I always get them wrong and I got them wrong again at school today” comes the reply.

It’s a constant cycle of self doubt.

Previous teachers have picked up on his personality very quickly and tailored his learning accordingly. Despite having a class of 30 children, the teachers have managed to do this and Luke has ended each school year meeting his end of year targets. This year however, I fear this won’t be the case. All of a sudden, Luke is going backwards. His times tables are apparently getting worse, his spelling is getting worse and he is not on target for where he needs to be. We have had to explain this to him because I was told by his teacher, in no uncertain terms, that Luke must know up to his 12 times table by the end of the year. And that’s that.

That is the marker of a person in year 4 of primary school.

You must know all your times tables up until 12 times otherwise you have failed.

It doesn’t matter that they are caring, thoughtful, sensitive, creative, eager to please and participating. If those targets aren’t met, those boxes aren’t ticked, they have essentially failed to meet the standard for that year. And, in my eyes, that is so wrong.

I appreciate children do need targets, but why do we have to pigeon hole them all into the same box? They all learn at different speeds and in different ways so why has it become acceptable for the success of a child to be pinned on these sometimes unobtainable milestones? We don’t force children to walk do we? We let them get there in their own time, and yet, we are forcing them to conform to a government target because that is what we are told to do. Regardless of the child’s wellbeing in the meantime in order to meet that target.

Because of Luke knowing he needs to meet this target by the end of the year, and because he was already struggling to get certain times tables to stick in his head despite our best efforts at home, he has become really stressed about it. He can’t even do a times tables practice session with me now without panicking and crumbling under his self inflicted pressure. I can praise, stay calm, reassure, do all those things, but because he fully understands the pressure he is under from school and his teacher to obtain the results they desire, he is becoming a nervous wreck.

I know he knows the times tables, and he can do them when he isn’t under a 10 second time constraint like in class, but as soon as that time pressure is put back there, he’s lost. Lost in an abyss of frustration and panic.

I have pretty much been told I need to do more at home with him. I need to make things better. In-between getting home from school, going to after school clubs, looking after his other two brothers and doing homework with the middle one, making dinner, getting them bathed, getting them into bed at a decent time, all single handedly because my husband doesn’t get in from work until late, I need to try harder. The pressure on me as a mum is also immense.

I won’t lie, I crumbled last week.

After a meeting with Luke’s teacher where I came out feeling like I had failed him as a mum and it was all my fault that he wasn’t where he needed to be academically, I cried. I cried because I was overwhelmed. I cried because I could see Luke looked disappointed in himself. I cried because I was at a loss as to what else I can do to help him when we already do extra work at home. Clearly what I am doing still isn’t enough, and that hit me like an out of control freight train.

What. I. Am. Doing. Isn’t. Enough.

The self doubt and panic baton was passed onto me and it culminated in me getting angry at Luke about it all when, in actual fact, it’s not his fault at all. Once I had reflected on it, I was angry with myself that I had snapped at him. He is trying his best, he really is, so I can understand how crushing it is to him to hear that despite his best efforts, he still isn’t doing enough. He was feeling that same self doubt and panic as I was at that very moment, and then we ended up crying together. An 8 year old and his mum, sobbing over times tables. Yep, that is what life has become.

Maths didn’t click with me as a child either. English, no problem. Maths, an eternal struggle so I can totally appreciate the feeling of wanting to chew your own ear off when you just ‘don’t get it’. We help as much as we can but sometimes these things just take time to click, but due to meeting these targets, time is not something we have.

Since that blip last week, we have started attacking his study at home in a different way. We have downloaded apps, a friend gave us a times table music CD, he has a target board on the fridge which he ticks off each day and we are challenging him to be more self motivated. It seems to be working at the moment but it has only been a week, and I am worried that if this doesn’t work then we will be back to square one again.

We will take it a day at a time.

Those carefree childhood days I remember as a kid don’t seem to be quite the same anymore, even if I remove my rose tinted glasses. I don’t recall the pressure in the same way. I don’t recall the fear of failure either. It really saddens me to think that Luke’s ‘carefree years’ are already beyond him. He quite often says, “I wish I was back in Reception. It was fun then”. How sad is that?! That he already feels like he has already had his best years when there are still (hopefully) so many more to come?

From the outside looking in, I can see that something is fundamentally wrong with our education system.

Something really needs to change.

 A child’s mental health and wellbeing is more important than targets and box ticking.

Isnt it?

All we seem to do is go on in a never ending cycle, even from a young age. Routine, work, stress, fear of failure, pressure.

Where did we loose sight of living and enjoying childhood, letting our kids be kids?

I think it’s time to claim it back.

Songs always help me through times in my life. This one sums up ‘life’ and how I am feeling perfectly.

Just listen. Eyes closed. Ears and heart open.



  1. February 9, 2017 / 2:43 pm

    Aw, mate. You know my son, who is 9, has also been through something similar and ended up with extreme anxiety so bad that it actually started looking like depression. Working with a psychologist and her team, and after the summer holidays and moving to a new school, he turned a corner. It’s a horrible, horrible thing for a mum to have to cope with, but I would say keep a really close eye on it and make sure Luke talks to you so you have a good sense of how he is feeling. Bless him x

  2. February 9, 2017 / 2:58 pm

    Oh Gemma, Luke sounds very similar to my 7 year old.He always doubts himself and panics that he will get in trouble at the slightest thing at school.He’s so sensitive and I find myself wanting to wrap him up and away from the world.The worry in his face when he knows he’s got a test breaks me.We can only plod on and do we can and I praise him all the time when we work together because his little face lights up.You are doing your best,that’s all that matters.I want to give you both a cwtch after reading this xx

  3. February 9, 2017 / 3:12 pm

    My heart goes out to you and Luke. I so agree, he shouldn’t be feeling all that pressure at 8! He should be having fun with his friends and talking about fart jokes (at least that’s what the kids in T’s school seem to be talking about in the school gate). T’s school is very small and has a population of 60 kids max in the whole school, I can imagine how difficult it must be in a big school. Her school had a really bad OFSTED report before Christmas all because of those bloody government targets and deadlines. But all the parents are happy with the school. We had an emergency meeting with the teachers and they all look like they’ve been punched on the faces and we’re ready to be punched again. I’m glad though instead they got our support. The husband even wrote a letter and complaint against the report, but of course it didn’t mean anything to them. Hopefully education here in the UK will get better soon for the sake of all children. Sending virtual hugs to you and Luke. xxx

  4. admin
    February 9, 2017 / 4:52 pm

    I feel so much for your little lad Tracy. It’s just awful that they’re under such pressure so young. It breaks my heart.
    I’m so glad he’s turned a corner and well done for getting help.
    Luke is very good at speaking about how he’s feeling but just lately he is having trouble verbalising how he feels, he says it’s hard to explain. Luckily it’s half term next week and then parents evening after that so we plan to quiz his teacher as to what she is going to do in school time to help because we have had no help from them at all.xx

  5. February 9, 2017 / 4:56 pm

    I really feel for your son. No child should made to feel that sort of pressure at that age. My son is only in year 1 and the amount, and type, of homework he brings home now makes me so angry. And I know his teacher doesn’t agree with giving out homework to children his age, but there is nothing she can do about it because she has to make sure she hits her target at the end of the year. Children aren’t allowed to be children any more – they are governmennt statistics instead.
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  6. admin
    February 9, 2017 / 4:56 pm

    Oh Julie you’re the loveliest.xx Thanks so much. Your poor little lad, they do sound like peas in a pod… Why does life have to be so tough from such a young age?? Xxx

  7. admin
    February 9, 2017 / 5:06 pm

    Bless you. Thanks Dean. It’s just so wrong isn’t it. The teachers are really at breaking point and it must be impossible to hide this stress from the kids at times. We love the school, but lots has changed in the last year or so and I really don’t think the support is there like it used to be. A smaller school definitely suits some children better, I am quite envious of T’s little one. It sounds like it should be and well done to all you parents for sticking up for them and sticking it to the man. Ofsted have their place, and are sadly required these days, but I do think they are killing childhood somewhat.xx

  8. admin
    February 9, 2017 / 5:07 pm

    You’re spot on Cat. In fact, you hit the nail completely on the head there. It’s just so wrong. I hope your little chap copes ok with it all and thanks so much for writing, it means a lot.x

  9. February 9, 2017 / 7:19 pm

    Oh darling Gem! This is awful. So so awful. The pressure is ridiculous. My Mum didn’t even start school until at 7 and is the most highly educated person I know. (Seriously, she’s collecting PHDs now!) I would just try and make it all fun. Make up a silly times table rap maybe. My heart says to tell him to forget about it, ceremonially burn them in the garden with lots of dancing round the fire, anything to free him from the stress, but I know in my head that isn’t possible, just make sure you keep telling him over and over that he is just damn perfect as he is.xxxx
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  10. admin
    February 9, 2017 / 7:40 pm

    Oh Lou, i thought you were wonderful already but I love you even more now. You always say the right thing. We do start them so young here, and expect so much. It’s finding that balance isn’t it. School is spilling over into home life so there is no sanctuary for him. It’s a constant nag to study. The poor kid. We will get there, it’s just so damn hard.xxx

  11. February 9, 2017 / 9:08 pm

    This is such a sad read. They start school so young these days and so much is expected of them so soon. And even when our school days look so laid back in comparison, I remember the fear that times tables put in me – having them fired at me just made my brain freeze up and although I did well at maths, I would fail the mental arithmetic test every single week. I can totally understand his struggle with it. Teaching and schools aren’t happy places these days – my Mum retired from teaching a couple of years ago and was very disillusioned about the way things had already gone. I don’t have any advice for you, but I really hope things improve for him.
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  12. February 9, 2017 / 9:10 pm

    Oh Gemma, my heart goes out to both of you. I was like this as a child, I struggled with Maths and how they taught it to me in class. Everyone has different ways of learning and if yours doesn’t match that of the teacher it can go the wrong way. Thankfully my mum spotted this and she taught me at home in a way that worked for me. I would often say to the teacher, I will learn this at home. Over time she realised this was working for me and took the pressure of me at school. I went on to love Maths, so the path you start on, doesn’t always define your future. xx
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  13. February 9, 2017 / 9:14 pm

    Oh Gemma this broke my heart!!! I remember Lewis feeling exactly the same way and as a result he had no confidence whatsoever in his abilities. During his first year in high school his teachers would say how capable he was but how unsure he was, and I swear its because it was knocked out of him at primary school with all of the pressure. He’s finally gained his confidence but already he is worrying about his options, starting his GCSEs, so much pressure on them from such a young age. You are such an amazing Mummy, I hope that together you can deal with all of this pressure, although I agree, something has to change! xxx
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  14. admin
    February 9, 2017 / 9:15 pm

    Bless your mum Katy. That’s so sad and rings true from what I have heard too. A friend retrained as a teacher and after 10 years can’t handle it anymore. It’s so sad.
    I wish there was another way… It’s just so cruel to put them through it. Some kids thrive on the pressure, others crumble. Sadly Luke is a crumbler.
    Thanks so much for your lovely words.xx

  15. admin
    February 9, 2017 / 9:16 pm

    What a wonderful mum you have. I hope I manage to do right by Luke and help him in the right way. It’s not right we put so much pressure on them at this age is it. 8 years on the earth and already disillusioned with it bless him. Thanks for writing, I really appreciate it.xxxx

  16. admin
    February 9, 2017 / 9:18 pm

    Bless Lewis. It’s just so wrong Laura. I wish there was another way. I know standards have to be met but the targets set are just insane.
    I don’t feel amazing at the moment, but I’m trying. Thanks so much for the kind words, it truly means a lot.xxx

  17. February 9, 2017 / 9:37 pm

    This is heartbreaking!

    We have a similar but also entirely different challenge… My 5 year old is very advanced academically, but socially he is struggling. He cannot seem to make friends (despite desperately trying to), gets distracted easily, and is regularly in trouble for his behaviour. He will tick every single box academically, and you’d think he’d be happy to go to school to learn, but he sometimes says he doesn’t want to go. He’s been in nursery since before he was 2 and he’s never said he didn’t want to go. Until now. And yet at the park or at church or anywhere else you can see he loves being around people. So I cannot help but wonder why school is so much harder for him.

    Like you I’ve come to the same conclusion – kids are all expected to fit into a box, where they all do the same and act the same and meet the same targets at the same time, academically and socially, and that’s just not how it works. And it’s heartbreaking to see how it impacts on kids so young, when our own school days were full of so much joy!

    I truly hope that you find a way forward that helps support your son in the way he deserves to be supported, rather than facing such awful stress xx

  18. February 9, 2017 / 9:52 pm

    Oh this has made me so sad. Neither of you should be feeling like this! You obviously know my opinions on school and education are slightly different to the norm but I can imagine it’s so hard when you’re in the system and you have to work to their agenda. I think you are doing a fantastic job helping him as much as you can at home. Maybe alongside that, make sure he is reassured and reaffirmed of all the things he is brilliant at and can do really well. Times tables are not the be all of life! Do you know what, I got an A in GCSE maths and I didn’t really know my times tables! Not in a quick fire sort of situation, I had to work them out by counting up. When I was 11 I had a reading age of 16+ and a spelling age of 9! I’m only saying this because everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and not everyone learns in the same way. I don’t know, it all just seems far too prescriptive these days to me, they are little individuals not boxes to be checked! Sending love xxx
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  19. Jackie
    February 9, 2017 / 10:44 pm

    Hi Gemma, I just read your blog from someone else’s share. I don’t have kids, but I was an anxious child myself. Reading your blog, the desire seemed to be to just make it all stop.
    And that’s what I wanted to say – find some way to make it stop. Perspective- and helping Luke to get it to. I saw a joke today that said “I’m so glad I learnt about parallelograms so thoroughly in school. It’s so helpful every time parallelogram season comes round.” The control freak in me wanted to point out how much the tax rules have changed since we were at school but I resisted & took it as it was
    So should you & Luke. What really matters now? Focus on that & focus Luke on it too. Is there someone struggling for friends at school? Could he have a project to befriend someone else? What really matters is his & your wellbeing, kindness, love, strength, peace. Lessons will be learnt in time for work, childhood & peace of man no counts far more. Bless you xx

  20. February 10, 2017 / 10:54 am

    I could have written almost every word of this. My son is 9 and starting to show anxiety about school. He’s worried about maths and getting the answers wrong. No amount of talking with him, reassuring him and trying to help him is working at the moment and I’m starting to worry. I hope things begin to improve with your son – please pass on any tips that are working for you!

  21. February 10, 2017 / 2:17 pm

    This is so so wrong! My eldest who is 12 is suffering from a lot of anxiety that has worsened since starting secondary school – thankfully not in primary. She is a sensitive soul too and a bit worrier. I’ve written a post for CMHW too, asking when will the government take seriously the obvious link betw increased academic pressures and stress. Have a read to see what Norman Lamb MP thinks (who is THE most sympathetic politician and former Minister for Care). http://wp.me/p2oDmP-135 In the meantime, talk to your head and governors who should be doing something to ensuring the kids aren’t shouted at (that is not acceptable, even if understandable) and your son given more praise and encouragement. A good school should be able to do more to help with his particular situation.

  22. February 10, 2017 / 3:03 pm

    Oh lovely, I am so sorry that he is feeling like this 🙁 It makes me so sad to think that he is coming home and saying these things, at 8 years old as well. Sending hugs lovely lady to you and your family xxx

  23. February 10, 2017 / 4:46 pm

    Wow, that rang true for us too, my son is 10, had issues since 5yrs, he’s now diagnosed ASD and did spend a short time on antidepressant’s! Its shocking the stresses these children are put under, and at a time when we as adults would say ‘these are the best years of your life’ …doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the future of a child with mental health! One sentence hit me ONE DAY AT A TIME, this is so true and a must in these cases. Virtual hugs xxx

  24. admin
    February 12, 2017 / 6:38 pm

    Thanks so much Rebecca. I’m so sorry you’ve had a terrible time with your little chap. Glad he’s got a diagnosis and you can make small forward steps now but you’re so right, or doesn’t paint a pretty picture does it.xx Thanks for reading and writing. Love and luck to you all.x

  25. admin
    February 12, 2017 / 6:40 pm

    Thanks Renee.xxx

  26. admin
    February 12, 2017 / 6:41 pm

    Thanks so much Siobhan. I’m dreading secondary school, if it’s bad now it’s only going to worse isn’t it… your poor daughter, I’m sorry she is suffering. It’s often the sensitive ones that do isn’t it. I’ll be over to read your post soon. I’ll also read the article you mention.xx

  27. admin
    February 12, 2017 / 6:42 pm

    I certainly will Kel. If I find anything to help I’ll be sure to share.xx
    I’m sorry it’s apparent with your son too. It’s just madness isn’t it. Something must change.xx

  28. admin
    February 12, 2017 / 6:44 pm

    This is just the loveliest message Jackie.xxx
    It’s helpful, kind and so spot on. It’s totally about what matters now.xx

  29. admin
    February 12, 2017 / 6:45 pm

    Oh bless you Amanda. It’s heartbreaking isn’t it My friend has a little one who is super intelligent and is having the same issues. You really aren’t alone.xx

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