How Can I Make My Kid Less Stressed?

22 Comments

stressed-kid

It might seem like childhood is a breeze (they don’t have to worry about the big things in life, right?), but often it is full of stress. Many children just keep swimming until they finally sink because they truly don’t know how to cope. They don’t know what stress is, how it affects them, or how to ask for help.  And they definitely don’t know how to help themselves.

It can be difficult to spot signs of childhood stress, as symptoms of stress are often physical in nature. That headache that just keeps coming back for more probably isn’t due to dehydration or allergies – it’s probably a function of stress.

How do you know if your kid is stressed? Some common signs:
• Complaints of stomachaches or headaches
• Sleep problems
• Difficulty concentrating
• Behavioral changes (short temper, increased anger, excessive crying, clinginess, etc.)
• Nervous habits like nail biting or hair twirling
• Refusal to participate in normal daily activities (school, camp, sports, etc.)
• Childhood stress can be triggered by any number of reasons.  Sometimes it’s something external, such as big life transitions or world events, and other times it’s internal, such as the pressure to do well in school and make friends.

Why are they stressed? Some common triggers:
• Transitions (new schools, new teachers, a new baby in the family, moving, etc.)
• Family problems (divorce, illness, death in the family, fighting between parents, etc.)
• Over-scheduling (too many activities = stress and exhaustion)
• Internal pressure (wanting to fit in, wanting to get perfect grades, fear of making mistakes or disappointing parents)
• School stress (test anxiety is very real and very stressful, bullying, poor relationship with teacher, learning issues)
• Bad news (major world events can really shake kids up)
• Scary stories, books, movies, TV shows, games, etc.

It’s essential to teach kids how to cope with stress. Simply telling them not to worry goes in one ear and out the other. They need to practice stress relief strategies that they can use anywhere at any time. Here are ten ways to help…

1. Talk about stress. Describe it. Share your own experiences in age-appropriate language. Normalize it.

2. Educate them about the mind-body connection. Connect the dots for them so that they can begin to understand that stress can cause headaches, stomachaches, and other physical symptoms.

3. Listen. If we want to help our children cope, we have to listen to what they are saying.  Don’t dismiss things that seem small to you.  Those things might feel very big to your child.

4. Teach relaxation strategies. A stress ball kept in a desk at school can provide relief when academic stress sets in.  Deep breathing exercises and guided relaxation can help your child learn to calm her senses and breathe her way through a stressful moment. Music, reading, and journaling (even for little ones – one word at a time still releases the negative emotions) are all useful strategies.

5. Prioritize a consistent sleep schedule. Consistent sleep helps reduce stress. Prioritize bedtime and set a good example for your kids by making sure that you get adequate sleep (10-12 hours for them, 7-8 for you).

6. Prioritize healthy eating habits. A balanced diet helps keep stress under control. Help your child learn to make the connections between food choices and behavioral reactions. Be sure to stock your kitchen with plenty of healthy options and teach your kids to cook.

7. Ensure that your kids get plenty of exercise and outdoor play. Adequate daily exercise helps reduce overall symptoms of stress and anxiety. Aim for at least 45 minutes of kid-friendly (riding a bike, shooting hoops, etc) daily exercise. Taking a 15 minute walk or kicking a soccer ball when under stress can also relieve the acute stress reaction and help your child open up and talk about it.

8. Encourage a worry journal. Writing down their daily stressors can help kids get their feelings out. Leave a journal by the bedside table and encourage your child to record her daily stressors and the things that made her happy.

9. Avoid over-scheduling, and allow mental health days. Sometimes kids need a day off. One day of missed school won’t set your child back too much, especially if it means caring for the soul and sending your child back relaxed and ready to learn.

10. Hug it out. You should never underestimate the healing power of a hug.

Here’s to less stressed kids… and parents!

Comments

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  1. 1

    Mikki says

    My 4 year old has always had anxiety. Lately, she’s gotten much better, but she is still unbelievably shy around strangers, or even family she’s known her whole life. Thank you so much for this advice, I know its going to come in handy as she gets older.

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  2. 2

    Emily says

    My DD6 stresses out a lot. To the point of stomachaches and headaches all the time. I’ve just bought her a journal to write in and I really hope it helps. The kid is so much like me and doesn’t want to talk about what’s bothering her. I really hope the journal helps, it’s about the only thing that will help me.

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  3. 3

    says

    I love this realistic and common-sense approach to stress in children. To be honest, I expected this to be an article about how to keep your children from ever getting stressed (which, obviously, is impossible in many situations). I was very pleasantly surprised and have found some great tips to help my son deal with stress. (He’s a worrier!)

    Thanks!

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  4. 4

    says

    Watch kids with headaches that don’t show the other signs: the #1 cause is dehydration. Make them drink a big glass of water when they feel pain instead of running to the pain meds right away. School is a great place to dehydrate all day, and get an afternoon headache like clockwork…a lot of schools let kids keep a water bottle at their desk if you ask or get a doctors note.

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    • 5

      says

      Children have experienced stress since the beginning of time. It’s been less than 100 years since kids were working in sweatshops and coal mines. Free, public schools are relatively new. Education past basic writing and math is even more recent for the working class and poor. Kids quit school to work to contribute to the family income.

      Stress happens. It’s only in the past two or three decades that we’ve accepted that kids have valid emotions. It’s a ridiculous fallacy that kids are happy go lucky and oblivious to what’s happening around them.

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  5. 9

    says

    My Miss 6 was taking over an hour to go to sleep at night. She hated going to bed because she knew she would be lying there for ages alone. She wanted a radio on and night lights on and became dependent on those things. Kept calling us in, and hoping out of bed too. A nightmare. Then I was recommended a relaxation/meditation type app for kids. I lie down with her in the dark and we listen to this app. Takes about 15 minutes. Then she rolls over and goes to sleep. We have only been doing it for a week and while she may get bored by it in the future she is enjoying the benefits of it now and is hopefully learning something about being able to relax.

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  6. 11

    says

    Best way to de-stress kids: pull them out of school. Homeschool. Suddenly all labels disappear and the child will thrive on his own terms. This eliminates most, not all, stressors. That big yellow bus is never stopping at my house!

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    • 12

      Pink says

      Stina, I was reading about homeschooling today! The only thing I remember from grade school was feeling sick to my stomach with tension and fear. On weekends I would worry about who would be mean to me the following school week. Public school rid me of childhood happiness. Learning? I still don’t know my time tables. I learned decent grammar and spelling at 20 years old when I bought my first computer. The public school system is a prison. I feel bad for my son everyday he goes to school. He comes home cranky and stressed out everyday.

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  7. 13

    says

    Stina the good thing about school is the socialization. Bullying is unacceptable but a little healthy competition is good. Kids have to find their place sooner than later. some kids emerge as leaders very young in life for example and being given the opportunity to show leadership among peers if they have that quality can greatly improve self esteem. Having no one to lead could stifle that gift. But if a child is having a hard time I could see it.

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