As much as stress is a part of grownups’ lives today, it is, alas, also increasingly a part of kids’ lives as well, which means stress management for children is an important topic for parents to understand. Child stress, like adult stress, stems from a number of factors, and can be best addressed by learning about what the problem is, what may be causing it, and then taking steps to help a child feel better and more relaxed.
Why are Children Stressed Today?
Think about all the stressors that can cause anxiety in a typical adult’s day: Noise. electronic stimulation from TVs, computers, cell phones, and other constant information-emitting devices. Traffic. Juggling work responsibilities, activities, and family in our busy, 24-7 society.
For children, who tend to be more susceptible to noise and commotion, day-to-day stress triggers can be amplified, making the need for quiet downtime even more crucial. Add to that school and after-school activities, the pressure to succeed (whether it comes from outside or from within themselves), family changes or conflicts, and a host of other factors that can lead to anxiety and you have the perfect recipe for child stress.
Signs of Stress in Children
Often, children -- particularly younger kids -- are not able to fully articulate their feelings of stress and anxiety. In fact, the signs of stress in children may be quite subtle, such as stomach pains, headaches, or changes in behavior. You may also notice mood swings and sleep problems as well as difficulty concentrating at school.
If there have been any major changes in a child's life such as a move or a new sibling, parents should pay particular attention and look for possible signs of child stress. Even if you can't pinpoint a particular stress factor, your child may experience stress from something at school or other source you are not aware of.
Keep track of her behavior and moods, and watch for any signs of problems. Ask her teacher about how she is doing at school and observe how she is interacting with friends and family members.
It's also worth talking to your child about what she may be feeling, even though she may not be able to articulate it in "grownup" terms. Stick to questions about what she might be worried about or things that might not be making her feel good. Generally, younger children do not fully understand the concept of words such as stress and anxiety.
What Parents Can Do About Child Stress
- Let kids know they can talk to you.
Encourage your child to talk to you about any problems he may be having, and to talk about his feelings openly and honestly. One of the most important and effective ways human beings can deal with stress is by talking to someone about their problem. Even if your child is unable to specifically express what she is upset about, just having you ask and encouraging her to talk can make a difference.
- Be sure to listen to your child before offering suggestions.
As much as you might want to jump in and help offer solutions, allow her time to fully express her thoughts and emotions before making comments or expressing your opinions.
- Consider doing an activity while you talk.
Some children may feel more comfortable talking about their problems while engaging in an activity with a parent. Do something you both enjoy, such as going for a walk, making cookies, or playing a round of basketball in the driveway before asking your child to discuss a problem he may be having. (Research has shown that boys in particular are more comfortable sharing their feelings if they are engaged in a physical activity while talking.)
- Get kids to do some deep breathing exercises.
Encourage your child to breathe in "good" air and exhale "bad" air, and picture it carrying any worries out of her body.
- Do some yoga poses with your kids.
Simple yoga poses such as downward dog, cobra, and tree are excellent for kids. Even if you do this for just a few minutes -- say, in the morning before school or in the evening before bed -- having a little quiet time with you can make a big difference in a child’s day.
- Try some quick stress-relief ideas for kids.
These can include fun activities you can enjoy together such as snuggling together with a book, massage, or playing a favorite game.