Stress is a natural part of life. Expectations, deadlines, frustrations, and fears are things that we all deal with on a daily basis. Children are no different. Worries about school, peer issues, problems in the home, and simply trying to figure out their place in this world are just some of the daily occurrences that may be stressing your child out.
As adults, we’ve learned to deal with our stress in healthy ways (exercise, meditation) or not-so-healthy ways (excessive alcohol use, drugs, destructive behavior).
Children have yet to figure out what stress-busters work for them, and may instead throw tantrums, act out, or cause harm to themselves or others.
While we can’t remove stress from our children’s lives, we can certainly minimize it by introducing them to various techniques and strategies for healthy stress management.
What can parents do to help kids manage stress?
1. Don’t over-schedule children – Kids need downtime. They need time to relax. They need time to simply do whatever they want – drawing, playing games, riding their bike. We expect kids to work hard in school for more than six hours a day (followed by homework in most cases), participate in extracurricular activities, help around the house with chores, and so much more. While it’s important to teach kids responsibility and strong work ethic, it’s also important to teach them to take care of themselves, and only to participate in activities that they truly enjoy.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with spending more time at home with family, enjoying the simple things in day-to-day life. Sadly, in our society, we’ve lost sight of this truth, and have instead embraced the myth that we must always be going, going, going. Helping our children to understand that it’s healthy to have down time, beginning at a young age, will have a lasting, positive impact on their lives.
2. Teach kids it’s okay to make mistakes – If there was one word in the English language that I would choose to obliterate, it would be the word ‘perfect.’ Perfection is a myth. Nobody is perfect. The pursuit of perfection in any area of life is unobtainable. Kids need to know that making mistakes is how we learn about what works and what doesn’t work in life. Kids need to be encouraged to do their best, regardless of how it compares to others. Fear of being wrong or making mistakes is a huge contributor to stress in our children.
3. Encourage healthy eating and sleeping habits – We all feel better when we eat healthy foods and get enough rest. That can be hard during times of stress, but teaching kids that their body and mind will be better able to deal with the frustrations of life after a good night of sleep and a nutritious meal is a step in the right direction.
4. Keep your own stress under control – As with all other aspects of life, kids learn from what they see. We are role models for our children, and they are constantly learning how to deal with issues in their own lives by watching how we handle the issues in ours. Using healthy stress management techniques as adults, is a simple and effective way to teach our children to do the same.
5. Make time every day for play – Play is not negotiable in the lives of healthy children. Play is how children learn, discover, and make sense of the world. Play is often looked upon as less-important than other aspects of a child’s life, but that is simply not the case. Play is vital. Play is important. Play is necessary.
How can you help a child who is stressed? Here are 10 healthy stress-busters for kids:
- Get outside – Fresh air and physical activity can do wonders for a stressed child.
- Squeeze it – Grab some play dough or a fidget and let them squeeze and squish their frustrations away.
- Smash it – Take ice cubes outside and let children smash them to pieces with a hammer.
- Tear it to pieces – Hand over an old magazine or newspaper and encourage your child to rip the paper to shreds. This is also wonderful for fine motor development.
- Breathe deep – Teach children breathing techniques and other meditative practices to help them relieve stress.
- Get messy – Break out the art supplies and get messy with your child. The creative process can be very therapeutic.
- Listen to music – Turn up the volume and dance around the living room. If your child plays a musical instrument, encourage them to play a song for you. Music is soothing and can do wonders for improving a bad mood or attitude.
- Slow down – Think of all the times in a day that we rush our children. Mornings can be especially hectic, and can have a lasting negative impact on the rest of your child’s day. Wake up a little earlier, or complete some morning tasks the night before to help start the day off on a more relaxed note.
- Enjoy some screen time – TV, video games, and other electronics (when used responsibly) can be a great way to unwind. Even better? Make it a family affair. Grab some special snacks and watch a movie together.
- Be silly – You’ve heard the saying, “Laughter is the best medicine.” It really is true. Laughing (especially those deep belly laughs) is good for the mind, body, and soul. Tell jokes, watch funny videos online, or look at family pictures that bring back memories of funny events.
Being able to see past the challenges and struggles that life sometimes brings us can be difficult for children. Helping them understand that things will get better, and they will get through whatever struggles they are currently dealing with, is our job as adults who have the important task of guiding our youth into adulthood. Giving them the tools they need, such as the strategies and techniques mentioned above, is one way we can do that.
Do you have a favorite stress-buster for kids? I’d love to hear your ideas.