As adults, we’ve all had to handle some amount of stress in our lives. Stress is our body’s way of rising to a challenge and preparing to meet a tough situation with focus, strength, stamina, and heightened alertness. But we often believe kids are happy and carefree – that their lives are simpler than ours. We find ourselves telling them how much harder it will be when they grow up and face the “real world.” The reality is, though, kids are facing their own “real world” every day.
Stressors for kids can include issues with family or friends, ongoing challenges with school, or crammed schedules that don’t allow any downtime. And while they may not initiate a conversation about what’s bothering them, kids do want their parents to reach out and help them cope with their troubles.
Signs and Symptoms
For kids with chronic conditions like migraines or sickle cell disease, stress is a major trigger for flare-ups and pain. But even kids without such illnesses can have physical reactions from stress. Families often seek medical care for their children for symptoms such as tightness in their chest, breathing fast, having a racing heart, headaches, or belly pain. We often see these complaints associated with stress in the primary care offices.
Other signs/symptoms of stress in kids include:
- anxiety or panic attacks
- problems sleeping
- loss or gain in appetite
- irritability and moodiness
- chest pain
- allergic reactions, such as eczema or asthma
- sadness or depression
What Parents Can Do
Everyone experiences – and handles – stress in different ways. Even children as young as preschool age can feel stressed. But it’s not always easy for parents to know what to do. Here are a few ideas:
1. Notice out loud.
As a parent, your first step is to recognize when your kids are stressed and then “notice out loud.” That means telling your children when you see that something’s bothering them. If you can, name the feeling and comment briefly about what you think they might be experiencing. For example, “It seems like you’re still mad about…,” “That must have been upsetting,” or “That must have seemed unfair to you.”
2. Put a label on it.
Many younger kids do not yet have words for their feelings. If your children seem angry or frustrated, use those words to help them learn to identify the emotions by name.
3. Listen and move on.
Ask your kids to tell you what’s wrong, then be sure to listen if they’re willing to explain more. Listen attentively and calmly, make eye contact, and get down to their level if they’re little. Sometimes talking, listening, and feeling understood are all that’s needed to help a child’s frustrations begin to melt away.
4. Be patient.
Give them time to get it all out. Remember that sometimes things that may seem like no big deal to us may feel like enormous issues with no end in sight to our kids.
5. Help them think of solutions.
If there’s a specific problem that’s causing stress, talk together about what to do.
6. Limit stress where possible.
Less is often more when it comes to extra-curricular activities. Help them choose one or two things they love, and consider cutting out the rest. If homework is a stressor, work with them to organize their binders, create a quiet homework space, and establish a set schedule/process they can follow every day.
7. Just be there.
Isn’t it nice to know that your presence really counts?
What Kids Can Do to Manage Stress
Kids can manage their stress and you can help. Here are some things you can teach them to help keep stress under control:
1. Take a stand against over-scheduling.
If kids are feeling stretched, tell them it’s okay to cut out an activity or two, opting for just the ones that are most important and mean the most.
2. Be realistic.
Remind your child that no one is perfect. If they need help on something, like schoolwork, encourage them to ask for it.
3. Get a good night’s sleep.
It can’t be emphasized enough how important it is for kids to get enough sleep. It helps keep the body and mind in top shape, making kids better equipped to deal with any negative stressors. If at all they’re struggling to get a good night’s sleep, you could get a Genuine Himalayan salt lamp which is said to help reduce stress and anxiety.
4. Unplug before bed.
To help the body prepare for sleep, kids should shut off all electronics at least an hour before bed. This means all screens – TV, phones, games, tablets, etc.
5. Learn to relax.
The body’s natural antidote to stress is called the “relaxation response.” It’s your body’s opposite of stress, and it creates a sense of well-being and calm. Kids can relax by building time into their schedule for activities that are calming and pleasurable: reading a good book, listening to music, making time for a calming hobby (like drawing, sewing, Legos), spending time with a beloved pet, or just taking a relaxing bath.
6. Step out of the box a bit.
7. Treat your body well.
Experts agree that getting regular exercise helps people manage stress. And eating well helps kids’ body get the right fuel to function at its best.
8. Solve the little problems.
Learning to solve everyday problems can give kids a sense of control. Feeling capable of solving little problems builds the inner confidence to move on to life’s bigger ones – and it can serve all of us well in stressful times.
9. Watch what you’re thinking.
Outlooks, attitudes, and thoughts influence the way we see things. Is your cup half full or half empty? A healthy dose of optimism can help make the best of upsetting circumstances. So try to:
Notice the good stuff.
Post those tips on your refrigerator or in your room as a daily reminder – for you and your whole family!
Check out these helpful resources for you and your kids and teens from Nemours‘ KidsHealth.org and TeensHealth.org:
- About Serious Stress
- Coping With Stressful Situations
- Five Ways to Prevent Stress Buildup
- Stress & Coping Center
- Teens Talk About Stress
- What Stresses You Out About School?
- Yoga for Stress Relief