We all know that adults get stressed out. There are bills to pay and big projects at work. Maybe a loved one recently died or maybe your significant other just broke up with you. Stress is a natural – if unpleasant, part of life, but we don’t usually think of stress as affecting children. The unfortunate truth, however, is that children do get stressed out.
Just like adults, kids can get stressed out for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they feel pressured to fit in with the other kids at school, or maybe they’re being bullied. They may also feel pressure to do well academically in their classes – pressure that could come from parents, siblings or peers. Sometimes kids simply don’t have the time to relax because their schedules are so overbooked with extracurricular activities like soccer or sessions with a tutor. It’s important to give your child the opportunity to decompress and to play creatively, so try to avoid overbooking their schedule.
Other stressors can come from within the household. Your child can pick up on a lot more than you may think. For example, if your child overhears you and your spouse arguing or worrying about money, he or she can pick up on that stress and internalize it. Similarly, tensions between members of the family, such as consistent fights between you and your teenaged child, can also stress out your younger child. Just as illness, death or divorce affect your mental health, it also has a huge impact on your child’s mental health. (Kids Health)
On the other hand, some children get stressed out when they feel separated from their parents. This could happen at a slumber party or at school, but it could also happen at home if you’re busy on the computer or the phone instead of interacting with them. (Kids Health)
A lot of times, kids don’t quite understand what stress is—much less how to cope with it. Adults are more familiar with stress and know how best to manage it, but children don’t have these coping mechanisms, so stress may manifest itself in seemingly odd ways. For example, there may be short-term behavioral changes such as mood swings or acting out. Some children have physical reactions to stress, such as stomachaches or headaches. Kids may become more withdrawn socially or they may start having trouble concentrating on their schoolwork. Much younger children may pick up new, anxious habits such as sucking on their thumbs or twirling their hair, while older kids may start bullying or disobeying adults. (Kids Health)
Helping your child manage his or her stress can seem daunting, especially when he or she may be acting in new, strange ways. Normalizing stress is the first step–talk to them about the stress in your own life and help them understand that experiencing it does not make them abnormal. Then, talk with your child about healthy ways of dealing with stress, such as breathing techniques, organizational methods or physical activity. Sharing your experiences and techniques, or helping them discover their own, will establish a healthy precedent for the rest of your child’s life. (PsychCentral)
Perhaps the best way to help your child effectively deal with stress is by managing your own stress in a healthy way. Be sure to make time for your child. Be there to talk, to listen or even just to do something fun. This will show your child that you care deeply for him or her and that you will always be there to support him or her. (PsychCentral)
For more tips and ways to control stress in a child’s life, visit Psychcentral.com/stress