Helping Children Handle Stress
Children face stressors of all kinds as a natural part of everyday life. As children grow up and reach school age, these pressures become more prevalent. Kids can face stress from parents, teachers and peers. Everything from losing homework, making friends, performing well at school and dealing with peer pressure can cause stress in children’s lives. As a parent or caregiver, the goal is not to eliminate all stress but rather to give kids the skill sets to manage the inevitable ups and downs of life so they can handle stress.
Good Stress Versus Bad Stress
One thing to remember when helping children handle stress is that some amount of stress is good for them. When children can successfully manage stressful events – however big or small – it helps them to build the confidence and skills that they need to cope with increasingly difficult situations in life. Further, there are certain amounts of stress that kids welcome and enjoy managing.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are stressors that challenge kids’ sense of well-being and that are perceived as a threat to the child’s everyday life and routines. This is the stress that can be worrisome. Stress that goes on too long or that is overly intense can have harmful physical effects on kids. Major life events – like losing a parent – can have long-lasting effects on a child and their well-being, and even minor stressors that are ongoing can result in a loss of appetite, a loss of sleep, a predisposal to illness and behavioral changes.
For most children, a majority of the stressors are somewhere between these two extremes – not necessarily a welcomed challenge, but a part of growing up and not a major threat to their overall well-being.
Ways to Help Children Cope with Stress
Helping kids build strategies for coping with stress is important for their long-term health. While children all cope in different ways, there are some things that all parents and caregivers can do to help children build these necessary coping skills.
Model Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress
Children look to the adults in their life to figure out how to act in certain situations. As a result, it’s important to make sure that you have healthy ways of dealing with stress in your life and that you model these for your children.
Exercise is a great way to provide stress relief and is something that you can do as a family to practice healthy coping. The simple act of taking a walk as a family during stressful times can help to reduce stress and build healthy habits.
Another way to model good habits is being open and honest (in an age-appropriate way) about stressful situations that are affecting the family. Children are very perceptive and pickup on changes in parents’ moods and behavior. Rather than attempting to shield kids from a stressful event – whether it be a loss of a job, an illness, an upcoming move – share the information and then work together to process and deal with it. Doing so not only helps kids handle the stress in a healthy way but it also models the importance of talking about and sharing stressful life events with others.
Ensure Children Get Enough Sleep
This seems like a simple step, but it’s a particularly important one for helping children handle stress. School-aged children need between 10 and 11 hours of sleep each night. While getting enough sleep is important for many reasons, it’s especially important for ensuring that kids are resilient when dealing with challenges and stressful situations. As a result, making sure that kids are getting enough sleep is essential to helping them successfully manage every-day stressors and enabling them to build up the confidence that comes from this success.
Teach Children Calming Strategies
One way to help children manage stress is giving them skills to calm down in the moment. This will both help keep them from escalating and help set them up for success when dealing with challenges. Deep breaths, visualization, counting and meditation are all strategies that can help kids in the moment. There is no one perfect strategy but find one that works for your family and teach your children to use it when dealing with stress.
When Possible, Simplify the Schedule
The busyness of everyday life can be exhausting and stressful for children. Whether it’s afterschool activities, extracurriculars, adjusting to parents’ work schedules or high demands from school, a busy schedule can leave children feeling overwhelmed and tired. To make matters worse, when things are particularly chaotic, there is less time for parents and children to address and deal with stress. Some parts of your schedule can’t be adjusted, but when possible, simplify the schedule to give you and your kids more free time to cope with the stresses and demands of life.
You can’t – and don’t want to – take away all the stress from your child’s life. Some stress is good, and kids need the skills and confidence that come from coping with stressful situations. Rather than removing the stress, focus on building healthy habits and life-long skills to manage stress. And, should your family face an intense or traumatic stressor or if you’re concerned about you or your child’s ability to cope with stress, don’t hesitate to model good coping strategies by seeking professional help.
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