Children, like adults, can struggle with stress. Overscheduling, tension within their families and going back to school are all stressors. Recognizing the signs of stress in your child is the first step to helping him or her cope. Once you’ve done that, you can better help your children manage stress.
WHAT IS STRESS?
Stress is the body’s response to life’s demands and challenges. Stress is neither good nor bad. In some cases, it can give us an adrenaline rush and the boost of energy we need to finish a project. However, too much stress can be harmful. Excess stress can cause physical ailments, lower our immunity and affect our mood.
WHAT ARE COMMON SIGNS OF STRESS?
School, peer pressure, endless commitments, fitting in—all of these things can cause kids to feel stress. Children and youth can experience more stress at certain times, particularly when starting school, moving, or coping with changes in the family, including separation or divorce. Kids have different ways of showing and dealing with these stressors, including
* acting out
* loss of appetite
* depressed mood
* difficulty sleeping
* irritability or anger
* tiredness and fatigue
* muscles aches or stomach aches
* difficulty thinking and concentrating
HOW CAN I HELP MY CHILD MANAGE STRESS?
1. Teach children to listen to their bodies. Teach your children to understand their bodies and to recognize the telltale signs of stress (listed above).
2. Lead by example. We can’t always control the situations and events that cause stress, but we can take steps to minimize the stressors and help our kids better cope with stress. If, as a parent, you’re stressed, your children will invariably pick up on that. Instead, model effective coping and stress management skills. Teach your children to problem solve, plan and set healthy boundaries. If you lead by example, your children will realize the importance of mindfulness, relaxation and other strategies.
3. Stop overscheduling. We expect kids to pay attention and perform well during seven or eight hours at school. We then expect them to excel in extracurricular activities, finish their homework, do their chores and go to bed on time.
Children may not realize on their own how important it is to allow their bodies and minds time to rest. It’s up to parents to know whether their children have too many commitments. Teach your children how to be appropriately assertive: ensure that they know how to say yes and no to activities and commitments.
4. Make time for unstructured play. It’s important that your child participate in fun activities and spend time with friends. With unstructured play, there’s no lesson, competition or end goal. To achieve the maximum benefit from such play, combine it with physical activity such as a bike ride, hike, or backyard game of touch football or catch.
5. Practise proper sleep hygiene. Restful sleep can help minimize stress, improve mood and improve academic performance. If your children aren’t getting enough sleep, or if sleep is interrupted, they may have too much on their plate. Consider cutting back on your kids’ commitments.
Ensure that your children understand the benefits of sleep, and help them practise good sleep hygiene. This includes not only a consistent bedtime, but also an environment that facilitates sleep. Minimize screen time one to two hours before bed, and keep TV and electronics out of your child’s room. The blue light emitted by cellphones, tablets and other devices can interfere with sleep.
6. Remind your kids that to err is human. The fear of making mistakes can cripple some children. In fact, the fear of failure can stop them in their tracks.
Kids aren’t expected to know how to do everything—let alone how to do everything right. While making sound decisions is an important life skill, it’s equally important that our kids understand how to recover from a bad decision.
Look for teachable moments—opportunities to help your children appreciate that, sometimes, messing up is part of the learning process. Making mistakes is a natural part of growing and of discovering who and what they are. While it may be natural for children to overthink, dwelling on the problem isn’t helpful. Instead, help your kids identify the appropriate next steps. This will help them fix what happened, make amends, learn from the experience and move on. It teaches them not only balanced thinking, but also effectively problem-solving skills.
Interested in learning more about talking with your children about stress? Looking for kid- and family-friendly resources?
Follow along with Stresslr, a friendly robot, as he explains what causes stress. Designed for children between 9 and 11, and designed by the Kelly Mental Health Resource Centre, the Stresslr website teaches children to develop healthy strategies to cope with stress in their everyday lives.