8 Ways to Help Your Child Cope With Stress by Alexandra Eidens
Just like us adults, kids experience stress. School-aged children face academic pressure, peer conflict, family changes and many other kinds of stressors each day….especially at this time with all that is going on in the world.
Psychotherapist Lynn Lyons emphasizes that kids should be taught the importance of coping mechanisms early on.
Here are 8 effective ways to help your child manage their stressors and worries:
Use positive reframing strategies
Reframing helps children view their problems in a different way. It acknowledges the stressor while also providing a more positive perspective.
Children can learn to reframe in a few easy steps. First, help them identify the thoughts associated with their problem (“No one likes me” or “I’ll never get a good grade on this test.”) These types of worry thoughts start a chain reaction of other negative thoughts and feelings.
Next, help them find an alternative thought to replace the original one. If your child says, “I’ll never get a good grade on this test,” suggest an alternate thought like: “If I work hard and study, there’s a good chance I’ll do well.”
When we help reframe their worries, children can think in a more realistic and positive way.
Encourage your child to express his anxiety
Anxiety is a common emotion, but difficult to express sometimes. The sooner your child learns to talk about difficult feelings, the more healthy they will become.
Children may show anxiety by complaining of stomach aches, trouble sleeping or worrying about the future. In many cases, irritable and grouchy behavior is a sign of childhood anxiety.
Talk with your child about how feeling anxious is normal at times and how it might feel in the body (upset stomach, tight muscles, perspiration or headaches). Provide outlets for expressing anxiety, like journaling or drawing pictures of worries.
A simple way to help your child express anxiety is to share your own. When you are feeling nervous or worried, talk about the feeling and how you are managing it.
Many stressors that appear small to adults feel big to children. We all process differently. It’s important to treat your child’s emotions with respect.
Validating your child’s feelings simply means acknowledging how they feel. If your child reports being nervous about an upcoming test, pause before dismissing the fear. Say “I hear you say you are worried about the test” to show your child you are listening and understand.
Another way to show respect is by allowing children to answer for themselves. When another adult (or peer) asks your child a question, it’s tempting to jump in and answer for them. Instead, give them opportunities to respond for themselves.
Teach problem-solving skills
Learning how to face and solve problems early in life is crucial. And we can teach children problem-solving skills in a variety of ways.
As parents, you can first model effective problem-solving. Discuss the challenges you encounter, and the steps you are taking to solve them. Emphasize that it’s okay to make mistakes because that is how you learn and grow.
Also, discuss a simple 3-step process for solving problems. First, identify what the problem is. Next, brainstorm a variety of solutions. Finally, pick one or more solutions to try. If the solution does not work, explore why and how you might tackle a similar issue in the future.
Posing open-ended questions is another way of solving problems. When your child encounters a difficulty, ask questions like “How could we work together to solve this?” or “What would you do differently next time?”
Practice calming exercises
When a child is becoming anxious or stressed, there are many practices to help them calm down. Not all coping exercises work for every situation, so it’s key to have a variety of choices.
Basic relaxation exercises to relieve stress might include listening to music, taking deep breaths, or counting to ten. Children can imagine themselves in their favorite place, or even take a slow walk and notice their feet on the ground.
Calming exercises are useful for home and school, as well as transitions throughout the day. Talk with your child about their favorite choice, and encourage regular practice in moments of stress or anxiety.
Typically schedules may be full of many activities which can make things feel hectic and stressful for children. This leads to tired, cranky and overwhelmed kids (and parents too).
Occasionally, downtime happens naturally. More often, parents need to plan for and support regular breaks. Start by considering the many interests your child has, and talk about what’s most important to them and what could be cut out, once things get back to normal. Some parenting experts recommend choosing only one to two extra activities per week.
Encourage quiet activities like reading, coloring or crafting. Play a board game together as a family, or cook a simple meal. Be sure to turn off electronics to limit noise and distractions….and try not to watch a lot of news, which can be tough to take.
Taking downtime yourself also shows children how to relax. When parents are always overly-committed, children will see this as a positive way to be.
Let them sleep
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, elementary-aged children should sleep between 9 to 12 hours a day. Teenagers require only slightly less.
Promote sleep through a calming bedtime routine. Consider the physical signals you can send that it’s time for bed, like lowering the lights and putting away electronics.
With younger children, you may give them a bath before bed, or let them choose several books to read together. Make a “checklist” of things your child needs before bed–a stuffed animal, nightlight or comfortable pajamas–to encourage their buy-in.
Maintain a healthy living environment
A study at Indiana University found that people living in clean homes were physically healthier than people with messy homes. Another study showed an increased level of stress hormones in couples living with clutter.
Like adults, children flourish in safe and healthy environments. Home is where children play, finish their homework, and sleep. A messy home creates visual distractions, making it difficult to focus and relax.
So how can we create a healthier home environment?
Start by limiting the number of possessions your family has. Consider items you can donate, and talk about the good feelings that come from sharing your toys, clothing or other items with less fortunate children.
Cleaning together is another way to gain mastery of your environment. While children cannot control the stressors in their lives, they can take action to make home safe and clean.
By implementing these 8 strategies, you will show your child how to handle and gain resilience from stress. Make time each day to relax to the best of your ability and allow them to express their worries and feelings.
Alexandra Eidens is the founder of Big Life Journal, an engaging resource to help kids develop a resilient growth mindset so they can face life’s challenges with confidence.