We can’t make our children’s lives stress-free. We can teach them how to deal with it
Stress isn’t confined to the lives of adults. Children, too, suffer from it. There are several types of stress that kids experience.
To begin with, there’s the “daily hassle stress.” This is the minor, but annoying, ever-present stress of daily aggravations. “What?? We don’t have any cheese left? But I wanted a cheese sandwich for lunch!” Issues with clothes, food, chores, siblings, and parents — these present a constant supply of stress to every youngster.
Then there’s “real stress.” This includes performance-based demands, such as tests, exams, and auditions, social pressure (including in-person and online social experiences), living with parents who argue a lot, dealing with a special-needs family member, handling numerous and/or overwhelming responsibilities, meeting deadlines, and so on.
Finally, there’s “traumatic stress.” Being in a car accident, experiencing a terrorist attack or robbery, undergoing surgery, losing a loved one, being bullied, and other overwhelming life experiences can cause stress that deeply affects the body, mind, and heart of the sufferer.
Stress is an inherent part of life and so, all children will experience it aplenty. However, children (like adults) have different sensitivities that affect how deeply they’ll experience it.
Children born with conditions such as anxiety, depression, OCD, or ADHD, may get more frequently stressed than children born with hardier genes. Stress can arise from the internal racket of one’s own brain as well as from external challenges. Moreover, kids living in difficult situations (i.e. experiencing their parents’ divorce, dealing with serious illness in the family, etc.) will experience more stress than those living in more secure environments.
Children have different ways of showing their stress. Some talk about it, especially when their parents model this behavior. Others develop frequent illnesses, such as strep throat, colds, and flus. Others develop frequent pain syndromes (headaches, stomachaches, and malaise). Some have sleep troubles and nightmares, some become moody or grouchy or anxious. Many act out behaviorally.
How You Can Help
It’s important that parents acknowledge that children experience stress just as frequently and intensely as adults do. Then, they need to model and teach stress-reduction skills.
Parents shouldn’t explain their own short-tempered behavior by saying things like, “I’m sorry I yelled at you; I’m just so stressed-out lately.” Instead, they should say things like, “I know I’ve been irritable because of the stress I’m feeling about Dad’s health; I’m going to start taking a 20-minute walk before breakfast to see if I can calm my nerves.” Or, “Going back to work is going to add a lot of stress to my day; I’m going to take some extra vitamins.”
When children grow up seeing that adults do something to alleviate their stress, it becomes natural for them to properly address their own stress.
Of course, it’s essential that children witness the right coping tools. Those who hear their parents talk about easing stress with a glass of wine at dinner will be more inclined to believe that using mood-altering substances is the correct way to help oneself feel better. Ditto for various forms of avoidance and distraction (“I’m so stressed! I’m just going to bed — don’t disturb me!”).
Parents can teach children that stress is a normal part of life, something that all their friends experience. They can offer a slew of stress-management tools, such as:
- Exercise daily.
- Add “fun” to your daily schedule in between difficult or draining tasks like homework or chores.
- Take breaks to do something interesting on your own, such as reading, drawing, crafting, playing an instrument, and so on (especially important for introverts), or talk to friends and engage socially (especially important for extroverts).
- Journal and/or talk to someone (peer, parent, professional) about the issues causing your stress.
- Learn how to help yourself with healthy stress-reducers such as herbal teas, essential oils, or Bach Flower Remedies.
- Listen to relaxing music, do some meditative activity like Zentangle, or learn a breathe-to-relax strategy that can be employed as needed.
- Use weighted wearables (vests, sweaters) or weighted blankets to soothe the nervous system.
- Keep a gratitude journal (write down three positive things that happened each day).
Children, teens, and adults will always be stressed. The task is to find tools to relieve and heal stress sufficiently so that health and emotional well-being can flourish.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 714)
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