How do I identify and help manage stress in my child?
Most every adult knows that the world can be a stressful place. But according to the American Psychological Association, many children are also feeling their own level of stress these days, with about 20 percent of children reporting they worry a great deal. In addition, many other statistics suggest that American children are experiencing stress at new levels—with suicide rates for adolescents having quadrupled since the 1950s and the use of prescription drugs to treat children’s emotional disorders on the rise.
Because many parents and guardians sometimes underestimate their child’s emotions, it’s very important to understand the ways that stress can affect children while also recognizing signs that indicate childhood stress. First of all, adults need to remember that kids are faced with many things that can cause stress including school performance, relationships with siblings and school friends, and even their family’s financial situation. Stress, anxiety and depression can also take their toll on our children, negatively effecting long-term development and causing biological reactions such as headaches, stomach aches, inability to sleep, etc. If stress becomes a way of life for a child, it can lead to long term issues like heart disease, obesity, diabetes along with mental health issues like depression, fear and an inability to learn new behaviors.
Helping Children Deal with Stress
Most adults and caregivers certainly want their child to excel in school, sports and other performance situations. But often we forget that kids simply need to be kids and stop trying to be overachievers all of the time. Adults have their own coping mechanisms to deal with stress, but kids need to be aware of new behaviors and habits so they can learn to cope with stress on their own. Parents and guardians can help kids learn to manage their stress with these tips and suggestions:
Talk it out: The most important way to help a child learn to deal with their stress is just by having a good, old-fashioned conversation. When an adult knows what is causing a child’s stress, it can be the first course of action to combat stress. Whether it’s a bullying situation, worry about grades/school performance or any other stressor, when the parent/guardian is aware of the problem, he or she can guide the child on corrective actions.
Problem-solving: Once a parent or caregiver learns the cause of a child’s stress, he or she can then help a child learn to problem solve. This does not mean you should ever solve the problem for a child. Instead, you can help a child learn to look at their stressor objectively and think of solutions that can help them alleviate the cause of their stress.
Embracing imperfection: Many overachieving adults and their children think that perfection is the key to happiness. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. No child is perfect and once they have the burden of “being perfect” erased, the child can learn to be a kid again. For example, instead of worrying about having perfect test scores, simply help a child remember that school should be about the joy of learning. Striving to do your best is certainly important, but adults and other caregivers can help a child embrace their mistakes and learn from them without fear of rejection or embarrassment.
Relax a little: Children can learn to deal with their stress by learning and practicing relaxion exercises to help reduce their stress and anxiety. From learning to take a few, slow deep breaths to suggesting a child imagine they are in a relaxing environment like the beach, children can use these easy techniques to take them out of a stressful moment and into a peaceful zone.
Playtime: With all the pressures of school, family, testing, etc., it’s sometimes hard to remember that being a kid should include plenty of time for play. Physical play is significant in a child’s development, helping a child develop cognitive abilities and problem-solving skills and other natural stress busters. Exercise is a natural stress reliever and helps a child release feel-good hormones called endorphins. Rather than making play a competitive, performance situation, encourage your child to simply play for the fun of it. This can include toy time, board games, putting on a play or having a tea party. Playful downtime can help a stressed-out child in more ways than one.
Facing their fears: Childhood stress can occur when a child becomes fearful of a particular anxiety provoking situation. Whether it’s giving a book report in front of the class, marital problems of their parents or playing a team sport for the first time, childhood has plenty of situations that kids would rather avoid. But here’s where adults and other caregivers can help—by teaching a child to simply face the fear head on. By learning to face his or her fear directly, a child will learn that anxiety reduces over time. In fact, the human body cannot remain in a true state of anxiety for over a long period of time because there is a system in place that eventually calms the body down—typically taking between 20-45 minutes.
Staying positive: Children can sometimes get stressed out because they get lost in negative thoughts and self-criticism. If a parent or guardian recognizes this type of self-doubt or pessimism, they should teach the child to focus on their positive attributes and the things they excel in.
Modeling behavior: As parents and caregivers around the world know all too well, kids will repeat and act out what they see and observe at home. So, if a parent or other adult acts fearful of certain situations or is too hard on themselves in pursuit of perfection, the child will model their own behavior that can result in stress. So, parents and caregivers should be the stress buster they want their child to become by practicing positive thinking and other self-care behaviors.
A good night’s rest: With nearly half of all children having a TV or iPad in their bedroom, today’s children are suffering from a lack of sleep. What’s more, more than half of all US kids don’t have a regular bedtime. All of this adds up to a serious lack of sleep in a large percentage of our children—with that lack of sleep causing irritability and stress. Parents and caregivers can do their part to reduce a child’s stress by establishing good sleeping habits and a regular bedtime routine for kids and teens.
To learn more about childhood anxiety and ways to reduce stress, visit https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/stress.html.
To learn how to identify stress in your child or teenager, visit https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-children.
Visit abcquality.org to learn more about child care and development, search for ABC Quality approved child care provider and learn about the state’s voluntary quality rating system. ABC Quality is administered by the SC Department of Social Services’ Division of Early Care and Education.
By ABC Quality Team on April 14, 2020