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Stress is a normal part of life, even for children. As we learn, grow, and have new experiences our abilities are tested and we experience some level of stress.
We can’t shield children from all stress, and it wouldn’t be good for them if we did. But we can teach them how to manage stress in a healthy way.
Some of the most common sources of stress for children include things like school, peers, busy schedules, and sports. Children might also struggle with more serious problems like divorce, the death of a loved one, natural disasters, a family crisis, moving, or other traumatic events.
Although stress is normal, experiencing too much stress can be unhealthy. Signs that you child is experiencing an unhealthy amount of stress might include:
Whether your child is experiencing normal levels of stress or is feeling totally overwhelmed, below are some helpful tips on how to help children cope with stress.
Well Fed and Well Rested
Children who are healthy and well rested will have more resources to draw from when they are under stress. No matter what your age, we all do better when we aren’t worn out or exhausted. Remove anything from your children’s bedrooms that might be distracting them from sleep, including TVs, computers, and smart phones. We all need time to unplug and recharge.
Food also plays an important part in our wellbeing. Watch what your children are eating and make sure they are getting regular and well-rounded meals. It also helps to cut out things like caffeine and large amounts of sugar.
Shake Those Worries Away
Children need to get plenty of physical activity. Not only is it healthy, but it is also an excellent stress reducer. Being active boosts those endorphins, which ward off stress, depression, and anxiety.
Schedule For Success
Having a set schedule lets children know what is happening next and what to expect. Try to establish a restful morning and nighttime routine by planning ahead.
Don’t forget to make time for dinner. Setting aside time to eat together gives you a chance to slow down and talk to your family. It also gives kids a feeling of consistency and stability.
If you know a major change or a potentially stressful situation is on the horizon, help your children prepare for it beforehand. Talk through what will happen and help them envision themselves handling it successfully. Learning how to change negative thoughts to positive ones is an important skill we can teach our children.
The Importance of Play
TV and video games might feel like a good way to escape from stress, but we often end up feeling worse afterwards. Instead encourage your children to take a walk, read a book, or play.
Parents should also make sure their children have room in their lives for play. Life shouldn’t be a whirlwind of school, extracurriculars, and homework. Kids need some time for unstructured play and relaxation.
Build a relationship with your children that encourages open communication. Ideally your children should feel like they can come to you with their problems. If they looked stressed, ask about their day. Don’t cross-examine them or make them feel bad about feeling stressed, but help them share their feelings. Some people are better at opening up than others, so some children might need extra help. Be sure to listen, take your time, and allow them to feel heard. Things like lecturing, blaming, and judging can make it less likely that your child will open up again.
If your life is stressful, find ways to simplify. Talk to your kids about any sports or other after-school activities that might be adding to your stress levels.
It is especially important to find time to be together as a family and to relax. This time will also allow you to connect with your children so that you can tell when something is wrong. Be there for your kids when they need you. Knowing that they have somebody to rely on can help them navigate difficult situations more calmly.
Teach By Example
Children learn how to manage stress through our examples. Take a good look at how you respond to stress. Make sure you are setting time aside for yourself and your children to recharge. And we all know that if one person in the family feels stresses, we all feel it. If you need some help, techniques like positive thinking, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation will not only work for you, but for your kids too.
Use Your Words
Children who can express their feelings with words are less likely to express them with negative behaviors. Help your children, especially younger ones, learn how to identify their feelings.
Watch For Little Ears
Sometimes we forget that little children hear and understand more than we think. Be careful what you say in front of your kids, especially when talking about them. Overhearing you talk about their problems to the neighbor is likely to make them feel even more stressed.
The same rule also applies if you are having problems with a spouse, family member, teacher, or family friend. It is good for us to be upfront with our children, but they aren’t always prepared for more adult conversations. It is important for you to be able to vent, but save those conversations for when your children are not present.
Nobody Is Perfect
Let your children know that it is okay to make mistakes. We are all learning and we won’t always do everything perfectly. Let them know that you will love them no matter what they do or how well they do it. Like J. K. Rowling said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might has well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”
Help your children learn how to find solutions to their problems. Depending on their age, they will need some prompting or guidance. Help them brainstorm ideas and think through consequences. Teach them how to learn from and recover from their mistakes. Resist the urge to solve all their problems for them. It can be hard to see your children struggle, but it is important for them to learn how to deal with stress for themselves.
Once your children have had a chance to vent, help them move on. Don’t belittle their worries, but do help them find some perspective. It helps to vent, but not wallow. The best tools for this are service and laughter.
Get Help When Needed
Sometimes despite your best efforts, your child will continue to struggle. It is not your fault and you have not failed. You just need some help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. Talk to your pediatrician. Together you can decide on counseling and other options.
10 ways to help your child handle school stress (foxnews.com)