Rye's Holy Child School Works To Combat Student Stress

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William Hambelton, Colm MacMahon, Lisa Damour and Colleen Pettus at the School of the Holy Child in Rye.
William Hambelton, Colm MacMahon, Lisa Damour and Colleen Pettus at the School of the Holy Child in Rye. Photo Credit: Casey Donahue

RYE, N.Y. -- The School of the Holy Child is taking steps to help girls cope with the stress of middle school and high school.

As part of its wellness initiative, the school recently hosted Lisa Damour, a psychologist, author and director of the Center for Research on Girls at the Laurel School in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Damour spent a day speaking with students on how they cope with stress, and gave presentations to both the faculty and parents on how they can help their children in stressful situations.

"Our culture is more stressful for teenage girls than its ever been," Damour said. She said that there is a lot of pressure on girls to succeed in their academic, professional and personal lives, and that narrow definitions of success can lead to stiff competition, which leads to girls feeling more stressed. Girls are also more attuned to adults' expectations and feel more guilty when they don't think they are living up to those expectations.

"Girls tend to have this feeling that they have to do it all, that they have to be good at everything and they have to do it enthusiastically, and with a smile. That's a lot to ask of anyone, but it's especially a lot to ask of an adolescent girl."

In speaking with the girls at the school, Damour said that she found many of them have their own ways of coping with stress. For some, it's listening to certain music or going for walks in the woods. She said that it's important girls find their own individual ways of handling stress, and that adults need to acknowledge those stress management techniques and encourage them.

"I think for all of us, what we find to be stress reducing is very personal, and I just think sometimes girls feel guilty secretly doing things that they should be proud doing," Damour said.

She said it's also important for parents and teachers to make sure they are clear about what their expectations are, and work to make sure that girls have leisure time and get proper sleep. She said that it's also important to be aware of body language and tone so as not to subtly communicate disappointment even if they are seemingly saying encouraging things.

William Hambleton, Head of School at Holy Child, said that modeling behavior is very important in the school community.

"Faculty and parents need to make sure that what they model mirrors what they say," Hambleton said. "I think that with that clarity of expectations it sets students up for success."

Colm MacMahon, head of the Upper School, said that there have been changes in recent years in terms of scheduling, to allow the students time to complete some of their assignments during the day as well as find some leisure time.

"Success is defined so differently for each person, and one of the advantages of being in a small community is that we know our students well and that allows us to help them be the best versions of themselves," said Colleen Pettus, head of the Middle School. 

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