As a parent, you know all about stress. Your children feel and experience stress too — and they need your help to deal with it in healthy ways.
When kids are juggling schoolwork, sports, extracurricular activities, music lessons and any other number of time commitments, they can become overwhelmed.
And if changes are taking place at home that will force your child to adapt to a new situation — such as a move to a new house or a new sibling — life can feel hard to manage.
You can teach your child coping skills in simple ways, says Beth Esposito, MS, LPCC-S, LSW, Samaritan Behavioral Health. It’s also important for parents to get a handle on their own stress.
“If we want kids to manage stress, then we as parents need to model that for them,” says Esposito.
Signs of Stress
The first step toward helping your children deal with stress is to recognize when certain situations are having a negative effect on them. How do you know if your child is stressed out? You may notice subtle or obvious changes in their behavior, Esposito says.
Children can show physical and emotional symptoms in response to stress, including:
- Changes in eating habits
- Upset stomach
- Trouble sleeping
- Anxiety and worry
- Inability to relax
- Not taking part in favorite activities
- New fears
- Anger and crying
- Trouble controlling emotions
- Aggressive or stubborn behavior
Ask your child what’s going on, but be careful to phrase the questions in a way that is not shaming, says Esposito.
“Do not frame questions with a ‘Why,’ because asking why shifts blame to the child,” she says.
How Parents Can Help
You can educate your children to deal with stress by being a role model. Esposito encourages parents to do their best to keep their own stress under control and manage it in healthy ways.
The home environment and how you talk with and interact with your child also makes a difference, Esposito says. Try following these tips:
- Stay calm and spend relaxing time with your children.
- Create an organized, safe and secure home environment.
- Keep the lines of communication open.
- Get regular physical activity (a walk, tossing a baseball) to ease stress.
- Family routines, like a movie night or dinner together, can provide comfort and relieve or prevent stress.
- Talk with your child about coming changes, such as with jobs or a move.
- Listen to your child without trying to solve their problem and without being critical.
- Work with your child to help them understand and solve what is upsetting to them.
- Build your child’s feelings of self-worth through encouragement, affection and rewards.
- Try to involve your child in activities where they can succeed.
- Give children the chance to make decisions about events in their lives. A sense of control can improve a child’s response to stress.
- Help your child learn from mistakes and failures.
- Monitor the TV shows, books and games your child consumes to avoid violence or upsetting content, especially right before bedtime.
You can educate your children to deal with stress by being a role model.