7 Tips for Helping Children Cope With Stress
Stress is not just an adult problem. Kids suffer from stress too, and stress can harm a child physically and emotionally. All sorts of things can cause stress in children—problems at school, family issues, illness or a death in the family, bad news they see on TV, spending too much time alone, and more. Parental stress can also lead to stress in their children. If there's stress in the family, the kids will feel it.
What's a parent to do? Before you can help your child deal with stress, you have to be able to recognize it. Younger kids aren't able to tell you they are feeling stress. Older children might feel afraid or embarrassed to tell you about stress. However, changes in behavior or personality may be better signals than words. Here are some red flags:
Slipping back—look for behaviors from their past, such as being clingy, sucking thumbs, or wetting the bed
Signs of fear, such as trembling, nightmares or crying
Changes in eating habits—either not eating or eating a lot
Changes in sleeping habits, such as trouble sleeping or sleeping a lot more than usual
Changes in temperament: look for irritability, bursts of anger or temper tantrums
Depression—sadness and withdrawal are key signs
Physical complaints, such as headaches, stomachaches, and complaining often of not feeling well
Ways to Help Your Children Cope With Stress
You can't keep children's lives stress-free. But you can help them grow up in a happier and healthier way. Here's how:
Set a good example. Do you deal with stress by flying off the handle or going into deep depression? Then don’t be surprised if your children do, too. You're their role model. Show your kids that you can handle stress calmly.
Help children express stress. You can teach older kids to talk about it. For younger ones, you might need to use simple aids. Use drawing, crafts, dolls, or stuffed animals to help kids act out their feelings and fears.
Don’t keep secrets. Talk with your kids about family matters that might cause stress. This could be a parent's job change or a decision to sell your house. It can be less scary to hear the truth from you than to have their imaginations flirt with scary ideas of their own making.
Let your child weigh in. Kids can feel like part of the solution if they can join the discussion. It also helps them build tools for managing stress in the future.
Use children’s books as an aid. Children’s stories can illustrate stress and how to deal with it. Look for books on common childhood stressors, such as going to school, moving, having a new baby, death, or divorce. If you can't find the right book, try telling a story.
Exercise. Physical activity is great way to relieve stress. Make sure your child gets plenty of healthy exercise. Be active together whenever you can. Exercise, along with a healthy diet and enough sleep, can help ease stress.
Take a deep breath. And teach your child to do the same. Children usually respond well to relaxation techniques. So talk your child through several deep breaths. Or ask your child to close his or her eyes and imagine a peaceful or happy place. You might see if there are yoga classes for kids in your area.
Whatever you do, try to put yourself in your child's shoes. What might seem like a minor stress to an adult can be terrifying to a child. Don't play down their feelings. It will just add to their stress.
By helping your children work through stressful situations, you help them become stronger. They're learning, so someday they will be able to cope on their own. In the meantime, your support, love and guidance are the key. And when it comes to coping with stress, there's no such thing as too many hugs and kisses.