To many of us, childhood seems like a carefree time with few of the worries or concerns of adult life. While childhood is certainly a magical time, and one that we hope is filled with happiness and excitement for children, it can also carry some hidden stresses.
School, peer-relations, and the process of growing up can sometimes become a little overwhelming for kids. Particularly in the modern era where there is more pressure than ever in terms of image and popularity.
Experiencing stress is a normal part of life and something we can’t hide our kids from forever. We can, however, encourage them to manage it in a healthy way and catch unhealthy coping mechanisms before they become habit.
Six Simple Steps to Help Kids Manage Stress
1. Don’t encourage avoidant behaviour
Often, if we are finding something difficult or stressful, we have an innate urge to avoid it. This can lead to a vicious cycle as the issue grows increasingly stressful in our minds when we do not face up to it. For example, if your child is stressed about a math exam and plays sick to avoid it, they will be even more nervous before the next exam.
The body usually adapts to normal functioning levels within 20-25 minutes of being within a stressful situation. Teach your child that by facing their fears head on they can learn to master them. When they do, make sure to reward them and provide positive feedback.
2. Schedule some down-time
Between school, sports activities, and dealing with siblings, children can be just as tired as you are! As a role model, it’s vital to show your children the importance of building some fun and relaxation into the week, in order to maintain a happy and balanced life.
This may take the form of a fun activity such as swimming, a picnic in the woods or even playing a silly imaginary game! Make sure whatever this activity is that your child is not competing or under any pressure; just simply enjoying it!
3. Get enough sleep
When the going gets tough, it can be made a whole lot worse by exhaustion. Children need 10-12 hours sleep per night depending on their age. Without the necessary shut-eye kids can underperform in school and develop behavioural issues. This leads to a cycle of stress for everyone involved!
Get into the habit of a nightly pre-bed routine, lasting approximately 40 minutes. This will involve everything from brushing teeth to a bedtime story and commence at the same time each night. Doing so tells the body it is time to relax and prepare itself for sleep. It also gives your children good sleep hygiene practice which they will carry with them into their teens.
4. Encourage openness and honesty
Sometimes things become a little overwhelming. We’ve all had those days where work has really gotten us down or some glitch in the day has our minds working in overdrive. It helps to be able to talk to friends and families and work through our emotions. If your child tells you that they are sad, scared etc. – listen.
Don’t be dismissive of their feelings with statements like “no you’re not” or “it’s not that bad”. If your child is not listened to regarding their feelings then they will become more emotionally withdrawn and develop an inability to self–reflect. It helps to validate your child’s emotions by acknowledging their present state before moving on to a discussion i.e. “Yes I can see you feel sad, why do you think you feel this way today?”
5. Demonstrate good stress-management ability
This may be a little bit of a “fake it ‘til you make it” policy, but it’s extremely important. Next time you are rushed off your feet in the morning try to remain calm. If your child constantly sees stress devolve into panic, anger and frustration then they are likely to pick up on these cues and do the same.
Next time you feel stressed around your child, ask yourself where this stress is coming from, and whether you are doing the most adaptive thing to manage it. Often, the answer to this question does not contain freaking out.
Focus on your breathing, gather your thoughts and do what needs to be done in the present moment. Once your child sees their role model turn a stressful situation into a well- anaged one, they will start to be much calmer when they are in stressful situations themselves.
6. Teach your child to embrace positive thinking
Many children become stressed about things that haven’t even happened yet! They might fixate over messing up their lines in the school play or failing that spelling test. In any case it doesn’t help to have a negative outlook. Next time your child takes a gloomy outlook on life try to redirect their thoughts to the positives and what could go right!
Ask them what they want to happen and practice affirmations. Another excellent way to restructure stress-producing negativity is to write gratitude lists. In time your child can learn the value of the glass half full!
Stress is a part of life and it can help us motivate ourselves to achieve and take situations seriously when they are important. When stress becomes excessive, however, it can have a negative influence. Of course, talking professionals like psychologists, social workers, or other mental health professionals can help you find the skill you need when the basics still aren't working.
Teaching your child the skills they need from the start will benefit them for their whole life, and it may also help you manage your stress in the process.
By: Dr. Syras Derksen
Pham, L. (2016). Mindful Parenting: A Guide for Mental Health Practitioners.