April 28, 2016
> Read the “You Can Handle Stress” Fact Sheet in English
> Read the “Usted PUEDE manejar el estrés” Fact Sheet in Spanish
Life is stressful. As overworked and overscheduled parents and children, we’re all susceptible to stress, especially in our fast-paced region. And children—even the youngest children—have anxiety and concerns which parents need to be aware of. How can you manage your own stress and learn to understand and reduce your child’s stress as well?
Let’s start from a child’s perspective. What causes stress for children?
Many parents easily recognize the sources of stress in their own lives. But we often don’t realize that children have very different—and sometimes unexpected—sources of their own.
- Outside sources such as expectations of families and friends can leave a child feeling overwhelmed and filled with anxiety. Peer pressure, bullying or harassment is common in school but not something children often talk about with parents.
- Over-packed schedules at school, in sports or via other extracurricular activities can fill children with feelings of exhaustion and helpless, and does not allow them enough time to relax and unwind. Many children are also not getting enough sleep, which can cause both physical and emotional stress.
- Sometimes the biggest stressor for children is self-imposed pressure. It is easy for children to feel like they are not good enough, especially in school, sports or other extracurricular activities.
- World news can also be a source of stress for children. Violent or disturbing images seen on television or discussions of terrorism, wars, and natural disasters may result in children feeling scared and fearful.
- Any major change in a child’s life can be extremely stressful, such as relocating, divorce or death of a loved one.
How can parents recognize the symptoms of stress in their children?
- emotional changes such as sadness, irritability, and fear
- behavioral changes like losing their temper or crying
- physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, vomiting or insomnia
- changes in interactions with others; for example, withdrawing from social situations, being teased or teasing others, extreme sadness or anger.
How can parents reduce stress in their child’s life?
Children might not understand that the feelings they are having are stress. It may simply feel like sadness, exhaustion, anger or anxiety. These feelings might be new to them, and they are most likely unaware of how to handle them on their own.
Help your child understand what stress is, what causes it and how they can handle it.
How can parents teach their children coping strategies for stress?
You can empower them to handle stressful situations. Remember to tailor the information you present to your children based on their developmental level and their understanding of potential stress-inducing events.
Refrain from bombarding them with unnecessary information which could confuse them or even cause more stress. Basic coping strategies might include:
- Diverse responses to outside sources of stress. If a child is being taunted at school for example, offer them options such as walking away, asking an adult for help or telling the bully to stop.
- Relaxation techniques such as taking 3 deep breaths, counting down from 10, or going outside to dance, run or move around.
- Expression of stressful feelings through talking, art or music.You can simply provide your children with drawing supplies and sit with them and talk while they draw.
How can parents create a supportive, low-stress environment for their children?
Create a supportive environment for your children to relax, de-stress and express themselves. Don’t over schedule your children! Ask them which activities bring them joy and be aware of those that bring anxiety or negative emotions. Unwinding is an important coping mechanism. Be sure your family has “downtime” together, when you can talk and de-stress together.
Ensure your child gets enough sleep each night and proper nutrition. When kids are healthy it is easier for them to cope with the stressors of everyday life.
Most importantly, listen to what your children are saying. Are they tired of their activities? Do they feel that they aren’t fitting in at school? Be aware of their stress level and look for ways to reduce it. You can help them deal with stress in healthy ways that they’ll use for the rest of their life!
In order to take care of your children you must take care of yourself, so it is important to be aware of YOUR stress level and work to manage it. So, are stress triggers for children similar to those for adults?
The answer is yes. The 6 leading causes of stress in adults are similar with what causes stress in children;
- Personal Health and Safety
- Death of a close friend or loved one
Are symptoms the same in adults as they are in children?
- High blood pressure
- Problems sleeping
- Lack of Focus
- Changes in eating habits
- Social withdrawal
- Relationship conflicts
How can adults manage stress?
First, identify your source of stress. What makes you stressed? Is it an internal or external source? Are there ways you can get rid or reduce those stresses?
Recognize how you react. Make sure you are not making unhealthy choices, such as excessive drinking and smoking, due to the stress in your life.
Develop an arsenal of stress management techniques you can use to help combat your stress:
Say “No” more often!
- Breathe Deeply
- Eliminate stimulants
- Exercise regularly
- Strive for excellence not perfection
- Participate in support groups or have a support network
- Lose yourself in a hobby!
- Make sure you do things that give you pleasure and provide peace and relaxation
- Cut down your to-do list
- Take control of your environment
What are some things families can do together to manage stress?
One of the biggest causes of family stress is simply TOO MUCH to do in a short period of time. Sit down as a family and make decisions about the traditions that are most important to all of you. You might be surprised to hear that your child is more interested in playing ball with you in the backyard than spending all weekend playing in a soccer tournament.
Make the decision to combat stress in your life and in the life of your child. Be aware of any changes in your child’s behavior or health which could be signs of stress. Work to keep yourself healthy in order to help take care of your children and work together as a family to reduce stress in your life by prioritizing (and trimming) your to-do list, getting things done and enjoying time together.
Remember, we need to pause for our children. No matter how fast the world might be moving around us, it’s critical that we pay attention to the kids in our lives. Take time out of your busy schedule to focus on your children, and know that it’s okay to ask for help!