How to Help Your Child Cope with Stress
Kids may seem happy-go-lucky and carefree, but the truth is, they experience stress like the rest of us. While some stress is normal and perfectly healthy, chronic stress in children is an important factor for substance abuse, emotional problems, and learning disabilities later on in life.
While you can't protect your child from feeling stress, you can help her learn to better cope with it and to solve problems to help reduce stressors.
Common Stressors in Children
School and a child's social and extracurricular life are the most common stressors in children. But beyond those are other stressors that can result in high stress levels or chronic stress. These include:
- Relationship problems, peer pressure, and bullying
- Major life changes, such as moving, parental divorce, or losing a loved one
- Financial problems in the family
- Housing problems or homelessness
- A negative self-image
- Going through physical body changes during puberty
- Living in an unsafe or unstable home
Signs That Your Child is Stressed
Kids often don't express their stress, and they may not even know they're stressed. But they may show it a variety of ways. Some of the physical signs that your child is stressed include:
- Changes in eating habits, including a decreased appetite
- Frequent headaches
- New or recurring bedwetting
- Problems with sleep, including nightmares, insomnia, and waking up during the night
- Stomach pain that can't be attributed to another cause
- Other symptoms that occur without signs of physical illness
- Emotional signs of stress include:
- Anxiety and worry
- The inability to relax
- New or recurring fears, such as fear of being alone or fear of the dark
- Difficulty controlling emotions like anger or sadness
- Aggressive or stubborn behaviors
- Withdrawal from family or friends
How You Can Help Your Child
Helping your child learn to cope with stress and solve problems will go a long way toward reducing his stress and helping him better cope with it. Here are some tips that will help.
Say something. If you notice that something is bothering your child, say something. Try to put a name to it: "You seem to be upset about something that happened at school." Let your child know you care and want to understand.
Listen. When you ask your child what's wrong, listen to her response with patience and caring. Try not to judge, blame, lecture, or tell your child what she should have done instead. Ask questions to prompt a full understanding of the story.
Validate the feeling. When your child tells you about something that upset him, validate his feelings. Say something like, "That must have really hurt your feelings," or "No wonder you were so mad."
Label it. For younger kids who don't have words for certain feelings or who can't easily express them, label them. If your child is angry, or frustrated, or sad, say, "You seem very (angry/frustrated/sad.)" Giving these uncomfortable emotions words will help your child learn to communicate his feelings and develop emotional awareness.
Help your child solve the problem. If there's a specific problem your child is having, discuss it with your her. Ask your child what she thinks she should do to make things better. Support the good ideas, and help her suss out the details.
Giving your child strategies for coping with stress when it occurs can also help. For children of all ages, meditation can dramatically reduce stress and help them better cope with it. Deep breathing exercises, physical exercise, and adequate sleep are all surefire ways to reduce stress, improve feelings of wellbeing, and leave your child feeling calmer.