April 9, 2013

Helping Children Cope with Stress: Top Tips

Stress isn’t a problem only for adults. Children can feel stressed, too, and, just like adults, kids need to learn proper coping mechanisms. Do you know what to do to help your children cope with stress?

1. Recognize the Signs

Depending on the age of your child, stress can exhibit various signs and symptoms. Toddlers may regress to baby-like behaviors, such as using a diaper, be fearful of loud noises, or even bite. Preschoolers may cry uncontrollably, have anxiety, and experience problems with eating or sleeping.

Kids of grade school age may have difficulty with friendships, become withdrawn, or be distrustful. As kids move into the preteen and teen years, stress may present as feelings of loneliness, anger, low self-esteem, and extreme behaviors.

So if your child is showing signs of stress, what do you do?

2. Don’t Add to the Stress

Your child does not need to hear about all of your problems. Unless it’s something relevant to his or her life, too much information can be burdensome to kids. Your child should not be your confidante, sources caution. So make sure you check your own behavior, and discuss your feelings with a trusted friend or relative instead.

3. Listen

While you’re talking out your life stresses with a peer, make sure you’re available to listen to your child. Active listening is a skill, and it’s important for helping kids cope with stress.

Asking your child outright whether or not he or she is stressed or if something is wrong may not get much of an answer (or you’ll get the infamous “Nothing”). Rather, listening also involves observation – note your child’s behavior. It can tell you a great deal. Pay attention to your child’s non-verbal communication, in other words. Watch body language and what words they use on a day-to-day basis. And when your child does choose to talk to you about his stress, then try focusing more on listening and less on reacting.

4. Words

Helping younger kids with words that identify their feelings may help the feelings seem less intimidating and overwhelming. Help young children by labeling their emotions and explaining what they are feeling.

Read storybooks about characters who are dealing with stressors similar to your child’s. You’ll find a variety of books of different stressful childhood experiences — from going to the dentist, to moving to a new school, to coping with parents’ divorce. These stories will help your child see that they are not alone, label their emotions, and see concrete ways others are handling similar situations.

5. Include Your Child in the Solutions

As you talk over stressors in your child’s life, include him or her in discussions regarding solutions. Let him think of some things he believes might help. This can actually provide a lot of insight into how your child is feeling. For example, if your child is being bullied in school, you might as, “How might you handle this situation next time?” Or let your child give input by asking about options, such as “I could call Billy’s parents or I could talk to your principal about this. Which do you think I should do first?”

6. Teach your child calming and relaxation skills

Relaxation is a learned skill, and is necessary when stressors are unavoidable, such as visiting the dentist. Teach your child how to calm down. The easiest is by paying attention to their breathing, taking deep breaths, or simply counting their breaths.

Children can also learn how to visualize pleasant and relaxing images, such as their favorite vacation spot. You can also buy CDs and books that teach children to relax.

Hopefully, some of these tips will help you as you help your child cope with stress. Just as with adults, stress can impair your child’s physical health, not to mention their emotional and psychological well-being. Give them the tools now to handle stress, and they will have a happier childhood and grow up to be well-adjusted adults.

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Alexis Rodrigo

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