Stress is a feeling that is created when we react to particular events. It is a function of the demands placed on us and our ability to meet them. These demands often come from outside sources, such as family, jobs, friends, or school. But it also can come from within, often related to what we think we should be doing versus what we’re actually able to do.
Stress can stress a child
So stress can affect anyone who feels overwhelmed — even kids. In preschoolers, separation from parents can cause anxiety. As kids get older, academic and social pressures (especially from trying to fit in) create stress. As awful as being in stress feel, it’s an absolutely normal feeling. One that we must teach our children to acknowledge and actively explore ways to deal with it. Here are our top 5 practical tips to deal with them:
1) Talk to your kid about everything
Many kids are too busy to have time to play creatively or relax after school. Kids who complain about all their activities or who refuse to go to them might be overscheduled. Talk with your kids about how they feel about extracurricular activities. If they complain, discuss pros and cons of stopping one activity. If stopping isn’t an option, explore ways to help manage your child’s time and responsibilities to lessen the anxiety. And if talking is difficult, ask them to write it all down.
Kids’ stress may be intensified by more than just what’s happening in their own lives. Do your kids hear you talking about troubles at work, worrying about a relative’s illness, or arguing with your spouse about financial matters? Parents should watch how they discuss such issues when their kids are near because children will pick up on their parents’ anxieties and start to worry themselves.
2) Listen to your child
Ask your child to tell you what’s wrong. Listen attentively and calmly — with interest, patience, openness, and caring. Avoid any urge to judge, blame, lecture, or say what you think your child should have done instead. The idea is to let your child’s concerns (and feelings) be heard. Try to get the whole story by asking questions like “And then what happened?” Take your time. And let your child take his or her time, too.
Comment briefly on the feelings you think your child was experiencing. For example, you might say “That must have been upsetting,” “No wonder you felt mad when they wouldn’t let you in the game,” or “That must have seemed unfair to you.” Doing this shows that you understand what your child felt, why, and that you care. Feeling understood and listened to helps your child feel supported by you, and that is especially important in times of stress.
3) Put a label on it
Many younger kids do not yet have words for their feelings. If your child seems angry or frustrated, use those words to help him or her learn to identify the emotions by name. Putting feelings into words helps kids communicate and develop emotional awareness — the ability to recognize their own emotional states. Kids who can do so are less likely to reach the behavioral boiling point where strong emotions come out through behaviors rather than communicated with words. Parents, children and teens do not need to tackle overwhelming stress on their own. If a parent is concerned that his or her child or teen is experiencing significant symptoms of stress on a regular basis, including, but not limited to those described above, it can be helpful to work with a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychologist. Psychologists have special training to help people identify problems and develop effective strategies to resolve overwhelming feelings of stress.
4) Teach your kids quick calming exercises
When kids experience stress, they need to do something in the moment to calm down. Teach them a few quick strategies like:
- Take a deep breath: The key to this is to have the belly move and not the chest. When they breathe in, their stomach should move out and vice versa. Make this fun by adding props such as bubbles or lying down with a soft toy propped on the tummy.
- Imagine their favorite place: Have them imagine their favorite place in the world and allow them to stay there for a few minutes. what do they see? hear? feel?. It could be anywhere- the candy store, beach, park etc.
- Pick a number: Let them pick a number and count to it or pick a random number and count backwards. Sometimes something as simple as this can prove really effective.
- Meditate: This is extremely powerful and practicing mindfulness not only relieves stress but also helps focus better. Smiling Minds is a great app and gives guided meditations for all different ages from kids to adults.
5) Model healthy coping strategies
Children observe us keenly and try to emulate us. As parents, we need to model healthy coping strategies too. What do you do when stressed out? cook? solve puzzles? meditate? The next time you use a coping skill, share that information loudly with your child “I’m so stressed! I need a break. I think I’ll read for 10 minutes.” There’ll always be stress, it’s all about how you manage it. The earlier your child can learn healthy coping skills, the bigger their repertoire of coping skills will be. With a good set of coping strategies, they can tackle any stressful situations successfully.
In order to bring out a confident and strong personality in your child, you need to be vigilant about every sign, gesture and action they do. Kids don’t do anything or say anything without any reason. Never ignore that reason. Do share your tips in the comments section below!