Stress isn’t just an adult thing. Here’s how to help kids cope in healthy ways.
Stress is a normal part of life. Without it you wouldn’t know how to deal with all life throws at you. Your stress response preps your body for action, whether to face the challenge or avoid it. You begin to breathe faster, your heart rate increases, and your adrenaline starts pumping.
In many ways, how you cope with stress is a learned response. That’s why it’s so important for parents to teach their children early in life how to deal with stress and anxiety. Without guidance, kids are likely to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. A stressed child may cry easily, seem irritable, have trouble sleeping, act out, withdraw, have stomachaches or headaches, or lack self-confidence. A child who fails to learn healthy ways of managing stress may later turn to drugs, smoking, drinking, overeating, and overspending.
The life skills you instill in your kids should include these proper stress management techniques.
1. Talk About It
Stay in tune with your children. When they seem extra quiet or irritable, privately ask them what’s on their mind. In a sympathetic and attentive way, patiently listen to their concerns. Validate their feelings in a way they feel understood and supported. Then, help your kids develop a plan of action to face the stress. Worried about a homework assignment? Upset by another child’s mean words? Give advice on how to move forward.
2. Limit Stress
It’s no wonder kids are stressed. A schedule that’s filled with school, homework, chores, sports practice, play dates, and karate lessons leaves little space for down time. A family that’s constantly on the go is more likely to be stressed out—kids and parents alike. It may be time to simplify your schedule. Cut out an activity or two and leave time for unstructured play.
3. Teach Calming Strategies
Kids don’t instinctively know how to handle stress. Teach them a few simple strategies they can use when they feel scared, nervous, or anxious. Deep breathing exercises tell the adrenaline system to calm down and not overreact. A few deep breaths that expand the belly rather than their chest are helpful in the moment.
To take their mind off stress, tell your kids to imagine their favorite place or memory. This could be playing at the beach, strolling through the woods, or baking with grandma in her kitchen.
Have your kids focus on the moment. Instead of worrying about what a bully said yesterday or the test tomorrow, have them think of their five senses in the moment. What do they see, hear, smell, taste, and feel right now?
Finally, encourage your kids to keep a journal in which they can be honest about their thoughts, feelings, fears, and hopes. Getting them on paper is a great outlet for stress.
4. Be a Role Model
How do you handle stress? Do you overeat or go the gym? Smoke a cigarette or take a hot bath? Lash out in anger or take time to meditate? However you cope, your kids are watching and learning. By modeling and discussing healthy coping strategies, you teach your kids how to deal effectively with their own stress.
Keep in mind that stress is contagious. When parents are stressed out, their kids pick up on it and get stressed. Manage your stress in healthy ways and your kids will learn to do the same!