Everyone experiences stress, regardless of age. Stress in children may not look the same as stress in adults, but it can be just as difficult to deal with. As a parent, you can help your child cope with stress by giving them the tools to manage their stress effectively.
9 strategies for helping children cope with stress
1. Listen carefully
- Listen to them with an open mind. Try to truly understand how they are feeling.
- Help them realize that they are in a safe place to express their thoughts freely.
- Once you gain their confidence, ask them about their feelings and help them put things in perspective and think about potential solutions.
2. Encourage problem solving
- Resist the urge to swoop in and fix the problem right away.
- Let your child attempt solving the problem on their own if possible, as this can help them learn healthy coping skills that they can use in the future.
- Help your child recognize signs of stress and suggest healthy ways they can cope with it. Be patient and encouraging.
3. Prepare them for potential stressors
- If you know about upcoming changes related to home or school, talk to your child about it ahead of time.
- Talking to your child about change and helping them prepare for it can help them deal with it in a healthy way.
4. Inculcate positive thinking
- Children can fall into the trap of thinking negatively about themselves and everything around them.
- Remind them of the times they worked hard and succeeded.
- Learning to frame things positively will help them develop resilience to stress.
5. Make sure they get enough sleep
- Experts recommend 9-12 hours of sleep a night for children ages 6-12 and 8-10 hours for teens.
- Limit screen time at night and avoid keeping digital devices in the bedroom.
6. Help them get exercise
- Exercise can help with stress relief and boost mood.
- The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 60 minutes a day of physical activity for children ages 6-17.
7. Make time for them
- Spending quality time with your children. Do fun activities together and allow them to engage in hobbies that bring them joy.
- Teach them how to navigate social media so that they know what to do when they run into questionable content.
8. Be a role model
- Your children learn a lot of things from you. Do your best to keep your stress under control and manage it in healthy ways.
- Talk to your children about how you personally have coped with stress in your own life.
9. Seek help when needed
- Seek help from a counselor or therapist when signs of stress persist despite your efforts.
- Mental health experts can help parents and children learn successful stress management strategies.
What is the biggest cause of stress in children?
Children are often stressed by tension at home, such as regular fights between parents. Big life changes can also be very hard on children, such as:
- New stepparents
- New sibling
- Changing schools
- Financial problems
- Loss of a loved one
School can also be an overwhelming source of stress for children. Stressors may include:
- Making friends
- Dealing with bullies
- Getting along with teachers
- Homework, tests, and grades
According to a national WebMD survey, parents consider school and friends to be the biggest sources of stress in their kids' lives. The survey found that 72% of children have negative behaviors linked to stress, and 62% have physical symptoms linked to it.
What are signs of stress in a child?
Signs of stress in a child may include:
- Mood swings
- Extreme anger
- Sudden change in behavior
- Withdrawal from activities that were once enjoyed
- Trouble sleeping
- Complaints about school
- Crying for no reason
- Fearful reactions
- Negative speech
- Change in eating and sleeping patterns
- Neglecting studies
- Getting sick often
How are the harmful effects of stress in a child?
If left untreated or undiagnosed, chronic stress can lead to an array of physical and mental health problems:
- Physical problems:
- Weak immune system
- Heart disease
- Mental problems:
- Panic attacks
- Impaired concentration
- New or recurring fears (fear of the dark, fear of being alone, fear of strangers)
- Aggressive or stubborn behavior
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
How to help children and teens manage their stress. American Psychological Association: https://www.apa.org/topics/child-development/stress
Stress in childhood. MedlinePlus: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002059.htm
Helping Kids Cope With Stress. Johns Hopkins Medicine: https://www.hopkinsallchildrens.org/Patients-Families/Health-Library/HealthDocNew/Helping-Kids-Cope-With-Stress?id=0
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