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Stress Management for Children
By: Wellness Committee Co-Chair Punita Patel
Young children, like adults, can feel stressed. Can you recognize when your child is stressed? A consumer survey by WebMD showed that children often show stress by displaying negative behaviors. Increased arguing, whining, aggression or worry are just a few examples. Sometimes the stress is manifested by physical symptoms such as stomach pain, headaches, decreased concentration or difficulty sleeping. So, what can we, as parents, do to help our children with stress?
There are a few ways that parents can help reduce the stress in our children’s lives:
- Be a role model by reducing the amount of stress in our own lives.
- Help children learn how to make small changes to reduce the amount of stress in their lives.
- Teach kids that there are positive ways to manage and release the stress that they will inevitably feel.
Ways to reduce the stress in our own lives that are child-centered:
Authors K. Romito, MD and S. Locke, MD offer a number of tips in their article Stress Management: Helping Your Child with Stress, including:
- “Provide a good example. Keep calm, and express your anger in appropriate ways.”
- “Acknowledge your child’s feelings.” For instance, when children seem sad or scared, tell them you noticed. Never indicate to your child that you think they are being silly by worrying about something you feel is insignificant. Remember that the stressor is important to them, and reassure them that you can understand why they would feel sad or scared.
- “Teach them about consequences. Children need to learn about the consequences—good and bad—of their actions. For example, if they do all of their chores on time, they will get their allowance. If they break another child's toy, they must find a way to replace it.” This consistency will help reduce your stress as a parent.
- “Be supportive, and listen to your child's concerns. Allow your child to try to solve his or her own problems, but offer to help and be available to your child when he or she needs you.” This will make both of you feel less stress.
- Show love, warmth, and interest in your child. This might be the most important one to reduce our own stress by making our children feel loved!
- “Don't over-schedule your child with too many activities.” This will reduce stress for both you and your child.
Ways to lessen the amount of stress that life causes your children:
It is important to help children learn ways to identify what causes them stress and lessen the stress from those situations. Here are some examples that children can learn easily:
- Your child should know it is okay to fail. “This is not to say that striving is not important,” says Amy Przeworski Ph.D. in her article 12 Tips to Reduce Your Child's Stress and Anxiety. But it’s also important that your child learn to be accepting of not being perfect. Healthy expectations of oneself reduces stress.
- “Encourage your child to face his/her fears, not run away from them,” Przeworski also suggests. “When we are afraid of situations we avoid them. However, avoidance of anxiety-provoking situations maintains the anxiety. Instead, if a child faces his or her fears, the child will learn that anxiety reduces naturally on its own over time. The body simply cannot remain anxious for a very long period of time...”
- Good sleeping habits are a must for children to practice. This cannot be overemphasized as sleep deprivation exacerbates stress. Try to maintain a consistent bedtime for yourself and your children, along with a pre-bedtime routine. Remind your children why this is important so they can help prioritize this. Good sleep habits can vastly reduce the stress that a child feels.
- Children should have some control in their lives. “Allow your children to make choices within your family framework, as long as they understand that is a privilege and a responsibility,” encourage Romito and Locke. “For example, allow them to arrange their rooms and help make family decisions.”
Ways for children to relieve stress when it cannot be avoided:
Finding ways to get stress out of their systems will help children feel better. The best ways to relieve stress are different for each person. Try some of these ideas from Romito and Locke:
- “Exercise. Regular exercise is one of the best ways to manage stress.”
- “Write or draw. Older children often find it helpful to write about the things that are bothering them.”
- “Let feelings out. Invite your child to talk, laugh, cry, and express anger when he or she needs to.”
- “Do something fun.” Volunteer work or work that helps others can be a great stress reliever for older children as it can put their own problems in proper perspective.
- “Learn ways to relax. This can include breathing exercises, muscle relaxation exercises, massage, aromatherapy, meditating, praying, or yoga.”
- “Laugh. Laughter really is the best medicine. You can be a good role model in this area by looking for the humor in life. Your child can learn this valuable skill by watching you.”
Everyone feels stress, both adults and children. If the above steps are instituted early it can be a very helpful pattern for children to learn so as adults they can manage the stress in their lives successfully. If you or anyone you know ever feels that stress and anxiety is becoming overwhelming, consider consulting a therapist who can help you or your child through those occasional difficult times.
Rossman School, nestled on a 20-acre campus in Creve Coeur, is an independent preparatory school for students in Junior Kindergarten (four years old) through Grade 6. The school’s mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. Dedicated to developing personal, nurturing relationships with each child, Rossman’s experienced educators provide a solid foundation in academics, athletics and arts while emphasizing strong character development and leadership skills. Request a free Rossman School brochure here.