Helping Kids Manage Stress
Adults are not the only ones who struggle with stress management. Our school-age children do too. There are numerous things that can lead our children to suffer from stress. There may be a variety of problems or conflicts at home. School expectations may be contributing to stress. Some children may be having difficulties with peers. In addition to these common sources of stress, children are now dealing with the stresses of COVID-19 as well. Many adults have found ways to help manage their stress, but most of our children haven’t been taught stress management techniques. What can parents do to help their children deal with stress?
Manage Your Own Stress
One of the most important things parents can do to help their children manage stress is to manage their own well. Children pick up on the stress of their parents, and it’s highly contagious! If you are feeling stressed, it’s likely that your child will be, too. Take measures to reduce your own stress, and your children will benefit indirectly.
Make Sleep a Priority
The Sleep Foundation recommends nine to 11 hours of sleep per night for our school-age children. The Center for Disease Control recommends nine to 12 hours. A lack of proper sleep can lead to many physical and mental health problems, including heightened levels of stress. Be sure your child is getting the necessary hours of sleep as recommended by the experts. This can significantly reduce the stress levels experienced by your child.
Make Exercise a Priority
Physical activity is a terrific way to reduce stress. For children, this won’t look like jogging or going to the gym. Children should be running, playing, riding bikes, swimming, climbing trees or jungle gyms, and a variety of similar activities. You may want to consider some organized activities, such as soccer, ballet lessons, or martial arts classes. If you have a backyard, you may want to think about adding toys or structures that encourage outdoor play. Take your child on nature walks and to parks.
Make Downtime a Priority
Don’t overschedule your children. Many activities may be curtailed during the pandemic, but it’s still important to allow children to have downtime with unstructured play away from technology.
Mistakes are Learning Opportunities
I notice, in my third grade classroom, that many of my students are afraid of making mistakes. This can lead to stress. I strive to teach students that mistakes are actually good! They are opportunities to learn something new. A child can’t learn new skills without making errors along the way. If a child wants to learn to do something new, like how to play football, or how to play the guitar, it won’t happen without making many mistakes.
I actually make it a point to call attention to my own mistakes in the classroom. It’s important for our children to witness mistakes being made by the adults in their lives. Children watch how we handle our own mistakes. Set a good example. If appropriate, share with them what you learned from your mistake. Reinforce this type of thinking with your children. Mistakes are a part of life and are not to be feared.
When children seem stressed, you may want to consider encouraging them to write or draw. Many children will express their thoughts and feelings through their writing and drawings. This can be especially helpful for those children who have trouble talking about their feelings. Creative activities can also be a wonderful way to relax with your children.
Stress Management Techniques
Our young children can learn some of the same stress management strategies used by adults. Consider teaching them some deep breathing or muscle relaxation exercises. You may want to explore aromatherapy, meditation, or yoga. You might even want to practice these activities as a family.
Laughter is the Best Medicine
There are many physical and mental benefits of laughter. Laughter increases your endorphins, which can lead to a reduction in the physical symptoms of stress. Enjoy a funny movie with your child. Tell jokes and watch some appropriate stand-up comedy. Make it a point to spend time with friends or family members who make you laugh. Be silly! Have fun and laugh!
Remember that our children experience stress too. Much like adults, they need to learn how to manage their stress. Take time to discuss these things, and teach these skills. Learn and practice some of the techniques shared in this article. It’s likely that your children will be amenable to more laughter, downtime and physical activity. They might even get excited about trying yoga or a new hobby. Soon, your children may actually be encouraging you to manage your own stress better!