Here are five solid tips to help your kids minimize and deal with stress.
Childhood has changed. Instead of pick-up baseball and basketball games on the corner lot, there are competitive travel leagues for kids as young as seven or eight. Instead of the three “R’s”; Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic, kids are faced with standardized tests and after-school tutors. Instead of Sunday night with the Wide World of Disney, there’s questionable “family” shows such as the Family Guy, South Park, and the Simpsons. And then there’s technology!
Kids today are experiencing higher levels of stress than ever before, partly because they’re being exposed to “mature” material before they’re able to process it, partly because the demands on their time are higher than ever, and partly because they don’t have time to decompress.
Here are five ways to help the kids in your life minimize and deal with stress.
Turn off the TV
Even when carefully monitored, TV can still cause kids stress. The bright colors, advertisements, and frenetic action are all designed to pull kids in, but they’re not designed to calm them down. (Some shows have even caused seizures in epileptic children). Turn off the assault on their senses. Sit with your children and discuss the day. Discuss what is going on in their lives. Listen to them!
Help kids identify and name their stress
Kids, especially younger ones, can have a hard time recognizing and labeling their stress. They may know they feel “bad” or uneasy, but may not know that what they’re feeling is stress or anxiety. Ask questions about what the bad emotions feel like (butterflies? angry tigers? a tummy ache?) and then help your child figure out when the feelings started. Was it when the teacher handed out the math test ? When former best friend Keeshia sat with someone else at lunch? When everyone laughed at your book report? Identifying what children are feeling can help them sort out those feelings and instill the belief they have some control over the stress they’re experiencing.
Give kids choices
One of the biggest sources of stress for anyone of any age is feeling like they don’t have control over their lives, or the events in it. By giving your child a say in what’s happening to them, you help them feel more powerful. Let’s say your fourth-grader is freaking out about her math class. You can’t let her skip math, but you can give her options. Does she want to ask the teacher for extra help, or look into tutoring? Would she like Mom or Dad or an older neighbor to help her? Would she prefer to study in the morning or right after school? Even small choices help a child feel a sense of control over the outcome of a stressful situation.
Be a good listener
Sometimes, the best thing to do is to just listen to your child, without offering advice or suggestions. Listening will allow your child to share some of the burden of their anxiety, which can help alleviate anyone’s stress. By paying attention to them, you can also gain insight into what the underlying sources of their stress may be.
Be there for your child
Just knowing that you are unquestionably available to your child can help him or her feel more secure and less stressed. After a tough day at school, to be able to come home and be surrounded by a loving, caring family can be the best stress-reliever of all. Take time to laugh and have fun, and create positive memories and events to counteract any negative occurrences in their life. It will help you relieve your own stress, too!
When we assume our kids are processing stress the same way we do, we are missing an opportunity. We have the tools available to help ourselves through stressful situations because we’ve been around long enough to know what stress feels like and how to combat it. Your child doesn’t have those tools. It’s your job to observe, listen, and then help your child work through their feelings. Pass your knowledge on to your child and everyone wins.
Jack Singer, Ph.D.