Kids don’t need to work, have bills to pay, or worry if there is food in the refrigerator, but they have plenty to feel stressed out about. It appears that kids today are more stressed out than in previous generations due in part to technology, overscheduling, and family stressors.
Michelle Golland: Childhood is filled with outside pressure coming from sources such as school, parents, and peers, but kids can also have stress coming from within. Often the pressure we put on ourselves can be the most intense. Kids can feel overwhelmed, and don’t have the same coping strategies as adults.
Your child’s stress may be intensified by your stress too. If they hear you discussing troubles at work, financial pressures, or issues in your marriage, they will feel your anxiety and it can contribute to their worries. Also, be aware of complicating factors such as an illness of a parent, death of a loved one, or adivorce. Even if the divorce is amicable, it is immensely stressful for children to have the security of their family unit broken by divorce. You should never put your kids in the middle of the conflict of a divorce by having them choose sides, or make hostile comments about your spouse.
It is important that parents reach out to kids and teach them how to recognize stress and express their emotions, and to learn to cope in healthy ways. This is an extremely important life skill to teach our kids.
SOME HANDY TOOLS FOR PARENTS:
NOTICE: Tell your kids when you notice them feeling angry or sad. Do not accuse them and act annoyed at their feelings, but be curious and reflect to them what you are observing, such as: “It seems like you are still sad about what Mary said on the playground.” Be casual and just let them know you notice how they feel.
LISTEN AND REFLECT: Let your child express themselves in their own way, which may take some time. Listen calmly and attentively; be interested, open, patient, and caring. Do not judge or blame. Avoid lecturing but simply try to reflect back what you are hearing them share. Remember: Your child deeply wants to feel understood and listened to.
LABEL FEELINGS: Label the feelings you see your child experiencing. This helps them identify the feelings they have, and will help them identify them in the future in other scenarios. The goal is emotional awareness, which will help them respond to their feelings and allow them to avoid “blowing up” or acting out their feelings in a negative manner.
TEACH STRESS STRATEGIES: Suggest activities for kids to relieve stress or cope with their feelings. Active participation and engaging in brainstorming will build confidence.
Role-Playing: Do role-playing around the stress or conflict-filled situation. For example, you can help them come up with the words to express their feelings to a friend they are having a disagreement with at school.
Muscle Relaxation: This is to help kids identify stress in their body and become aware of how they feel when tense versus relaxed. Have your child lie on their back and tense every muscle (legs, face, tummy, etc.) and then release. Do this about five times until they really begin to be aware of how different they feel.
Breath Awareness and Counting: Simply teaching them when feeling angry or anxious to take a deep breath and count in their minds from 1-10 before speaking can be very helpful in calming down their bodies and minds. This is a great skill to teach early in life, and one we as adults can use.
Visualization: This is a fun and relaxing way to teach kids to de-stress. Have them come up with a place that makes them feel happy or peaceful. It can be anything from the beach to Disneyland. Teach them to describe it in a detailed manner with their eyes shut. You can even do this together where you share your own peaceful place and explore what it is that relaxes you when imagining that scene in your mind.
Even though your kids may seem like they don’t want to talk with you when they are stressed out, one study found that 75 percent of kids really wanted their parents to reach out to them during times of stress. What the kids seemed to want most was for their parents to spend time with them, try to cheer them up, and help them solve their problems.
Remember: Often kids push away from us and at the same time desperately want to reach out for our guidance. Be patient, be kind, and just be open and available. It will go far with kids who are feeling the stressors in their own life.