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How to Help Children Handle Stress

Father supporting his daughter at home: Father supporting his daughter at home; blog: How to Help Children Handle Stress

Stress is an issue almost everyone deals with. We might think that because children don’t have the kind of responsibilities we as adults do, they don’t get anxious or stressed. That’s just not true. Children get stressed by a lot of the same things we do. And because they rely on adults so much, any feelings of insecurity or instability on that front can cause great stress. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, grade school-aged children start to experience stress from both internal and external sources. Whether it’s about school, family, peers, or societal pressures, stress is inevitable. But, what can you do to help your child handle stress?

Don’t Overschedule

A big source of stress for children is having too much on their plate. Between school, extracurricular activities, homework, and family commitments, a child can feel overextended. Make sure your child has downtime to relax and recharge a bit before jumping back into a busy routine. This can be hard because being well rounded in academics and extracurricular activities is important. And some kids want to do every activity under the sun. However, look at your child’s schedule and see if they have a couple of nights a week or several hours on the weekend to relax. If they don’t have that time, then it’s time to look at cutting down somewhere.

 Make Sleep a Priority

If a child is not getting enough sleep, they are more likely to be stressed. Or if they are already stressed, lack of sleep will not help them feel any better. Being overscheduled can be an issue here too if the child does not have adequate time to finish everything in a day and still sleep long enough. Also, create an environment that’s conducive to sleep. Their room should be free of distractions like TV or other electronics, and quiet during sleeping hours.

Improve Your Own Stress Levels

Kids follow the example their parents set. If they see you stressed out and frazzled all the time, then they’ll get stressed too. It’s easier said than done to reduce stress in your life, but it really does affect the entire household when one member is on edge. You can’t eliminate all stressors, so improve your coping mechanisms and slow down a bit. Let your children see you relax and deal with stress in healthy ways.

Teach Them That Imperfection is OK

We live in a world of mixed messages. There are always people who say parents are either too hard or too soft on their kids. However, there’s a lot of space in between to find a happy medium between hard and soft. A child should feel like if they’ve given something their all, they won’t be reprimanded if they’re not the best. Let your children aim high, but avoid putting too much external pressure on them. It’s ok to have expectations, but perfection should not be one of them.

Also, a lot of kids get stressed because they are afraid of making mistakes. Let them know that mistakes happen and when they do, help them learn how to move on from there. You want them to learn how to make good decisions, but they shouldn’t be scared of making decisions at all. And part of the learning process is making mistakes.

Practice Relaxation Exercises

For those times when stress or anxiety might seem overwhelming, your child could find it useful to have some calming strategies in their back pocket. Have them focus on deep breathing, counting to a certain number, or spend a few minutes thinking about being in a “happy place” where they feel safe and comfortable. 

Face Fears

If your child has anxiety about something, then avoiding it can often make the anxiety worse. If your child confronts what they’re anxious about, they might not automatically get over it, but they will learn that the anxiety will reduce after a time. Eventually, they might not associate anxiety with that place, thing, activity, etc. 

Find a Distraction

Some stress can be prevented, but sometimes it can’t be avoided. Whether they aren’t grasping something at school or struggling with a family issue like illness or divorce, children will experience stress at some time or another.  While it is important to talk about feelings and give them an outlet to express frustrations and anxiety, sometimes a distraction from the stressful situation is needed.

You can help reduce your child’s stress by finding a way to make them laugh. Tell jokes, read a funny book, sing silly songs, or watch a funny movie or show. Laughter is a stress reliever for us all, and kids are no different. Not only will the humor take their minds of the situation, but the physical act of laughter provides a release of tension.

Other ways to distract a child from stressful thoughts include playing games and focusing on others through volunteering. 

Talk Openly About It

One good way to deal with stress is to talk it out. You should open the dialogue by asking gentle questions that will get them to open up. Ask about their day and both the good and bad things that happened. Sometimes kids find it easier when they are not facing you, so maybe talking in the car while they’re in the car would be best for them. And you don’t always have to have big heart to hearts, a few questions here and there can get the ball rolling.

Also, don’t use language that shuts down your child’s expression of emotion. Rather than insisting that something isn’t scary or that they are “fine,” listen to what they are saying and consider it from their point of view. If they tell you they are feeling a certain way, validate those feelings and ask why they are feeling anxious or scared.

When to Seek Help

If you have any concerns or need advice about your child’s mental or physical health, don’t be afraid to reach out to your pediatrician. At Kernodle Pediatrics, we want you to think of our providers as partners in your child’s health. Call us at 919-563-2500 (Mebane) or 336-539-2416 (Elon), or send a secure message through our convenient online patient portal.

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