Childhood can be a time of wonder, innocence, and play. It can also be a time of stress as children learn to navigate a complex world. The pressures that come with family life, school, friends, and extracurricular activities can feel overwhelming to kids. While you can’t shield your kids from every stressful situation they will encounter growing up, you can help them learn to recognize their stress triggers and adopt healthy ways to cope with stress.
This article will examine the types of situations that can trigger stress in children and what parents and caregivers can do to provide stress relief for kids.
Top Child Stressors
Every child faces stressful situations. The most common stressors in children involve their relationships, their families, and what is going on at school.
All kids get into fights with siblings and friends. Interpersonal conflicts are a natural part of learning to navigate important relationships. While most conflicts work themselves out in the end, some are not so easily resolved and end up a source of stress for the children involved.
The pressure to be popular and to be accepted and liked by peers can be overwhelming to children, especially teens. What makes matters even worse for many children is that the issue of popularity isn’t restricted to other kids. Often, knowingly or not, teachers, coaches, and other adults behave in a way that leaves kids feeling unfairly treated or even victimized. Feelings of being treated as “less than” — whether by peers or adult authority figures — can cause a lot of stress in children of all ages.
Changing Family Dynamics
Children are wholly dependent on their families to provide them with safety and security. A change in the dynamics of the family can turn a child’s world upside down.
Any one of the following can trigger a child to display symptoms of stress:
- The death of a family member, especially if they were a primary caregiver
- The birth of a sibling, especially if the child was first born and used to being the center of attention
- Parents’ separation or divorce
- Marriage of a parent
Stressful Home Environment
How parents and other adult caregivers handle their own stress has a huge impact on their kids. If you and your spouse are constantly arguing or showing high levels of concern about money, your relationship, your jobs, or even how to raise the kids, your children are going to internalize these insecurities and conflicts and feel stressed and out of control.
Changing Schools and/or Neighborhoods
Moving is stressful for everyone involved, and children are no exception. Whether your child is shy or outgoing, makes friends easily, or has trouble in new social situations, moving to a new community and enrolling in a new school is going to bring uncertainty and stress.
Kids today are under a lot of pressure to perform well academically. Test-taking anxiety and other forms of school performance stress can start as early as elementary school and continue through high school and even college. Children often physically manifest their academic performance fears, reporting symptoms such as stomach pain or headaches.
How to Explain Stress to Your Child
Stress management for children starts with your child understanding how stress works. In fact, before your child can begin to figure out how to minimize their upset, they (and you) need to understand where the child’s stressors are coming from. To this end, it is important to know how to explain stress to a child.
Encourage your child to talk about their feelings.
- Are they worried about something in particular?
- What does it mean to feel overwhelmed?
- What actions do they take when they feel like matters are out of their control?
When you talk freely about stress and how it impacts emotions, you demystify the experience. You let your child know that these feelings are normal and that they can take steps to relieve the pressure. For instance, try using these techniques to get the conversation started:
- Model open communication. Open up about your own day. Talk about what made you feel happy and what made you feel sad, frustrated, or stressed, and then ask your child to do the same.
- Practice active listening. Listen carefully to the issues your child brings up on their own. For instance, are they complaining of stomach upset right before a big test? Are they finding reasons to avoid activities they used to enjoy? Are they reluctant to make arrangements to see certain friends? Any of these issues could be a sign of stress.
- Choose the right moment to talk. Find a time to talk to your child that is comfortable for them. Every child is different so pay attention to their clues. Some kids don’t want to talk if they are upset, while others will want to pour their hearts out.
- Respect your child’s boundaries. Pushing your child too hard for information can push them away altogether. The most important message you can give your kids is to be there for them whenever they need you. That message will go a lot farther than if you needle them for details they are not ready to impart.
How to Deal With Stress For Kids
While getting your child to talk about what is causing them stress is an excellent first step, it is only natural that you also want to take affirmative steps to help your child cope with what is going on. Fortunately, there are techniques to provide stress relief for kids that include addressing the issue at core of the problem.
Remove the Trigger
Sometimes what is needed is a fresh perspective and some rearranging of priorities. For instance, if your child is stressed due to an overscheduled life, you can relieve a lot of the pressure by simply reducing the number of activities they participate in and reserving time for schoolwork and free play.
Let your child participate in the process by choosing which extracurriculars to keep and what to let go of.
Lead with Understanding
When searching for stress relievers for kids, know that an understanding ear and empathy go a long way. There is a fine line between “being there” for your child and adding fuel to the frustration fire. Gently invite your child to move on after letting them vent their frustrations.
Encourage Creative Problem-Solving
Stress management for a child can also involve creative problem-solving. If your child can put their finger on the precise cause of their stress or worry, encourage them to explore solutions for stress management. Kids that participate in their own problem solving are much more likely to succeed. Ask them questions about alternatives to pursue or new ways of approaching the problem. For instance, if a peer is shunning your child at school, discuss whether they might explore new friendships or how they can make the best of the situation. Work through all of the ideas until your child feels empowered to handle the stressful situation on their own terms.
Kids Stress Relief Activities You Can Try With Your Child
Often, children can’t identify their stressors or express how they feel. Instead, they might experience stress through altered behaviors, such as trouble concentrating, moodiness, aggression, withdrawal, overeating, or even substance abuse. The earlier you can teach your child healthy ways to relieve stress the better the chance they will avoid acting out in an unhealthy manner.
Spending time in nature can increase feelings of serenity and well-being. Encourage your child to spend time outside. Plan family outings hiking through local parks or simply turn your own backyard into an inviting outdoor play space. Whatever you can do to get the whole family off their digital devices and out enjoying the fresh air and sunshine will go a long way to helping everyone reduce their stress levels.
Exercise — particularly aerobic activity — is a great source of stress management. For child involvement, try making aerobic activities a family affair by taking bike trips or going for family hikes or swims. You can also encourage your kids to engage in forms of exercise play — such as jump rope or running games like color tag or sharks and minnows — with other children in the neighborhood.
Quiet the Mind
Engaging in gentle yoga, deep breathing exercises, and guided imagery can be very effective in reducing stress in children. Learning these mind quieting techniques will benefit your kids throughout their lives.
You can find plenty of beginning yoga instruction online, including classes geared toward children. The same goes for deep breathing and guided meditation techniques. All of the mind-quieting methods bring down your heart rate and increase focus and feelings of well-being.
How an Au Pair Can Help With Stress Relief
Every parent wants to help their child live a happy and stress-free life. The reality is that it’s hard for parents to juggle everything on their own. Hopefully, the stress management for kids techniques outlined here can make the process easier.
Sometimes, though, you could use another live-in parent figure to help give your little one the time and attention they need. That’s where hosting an Au Pair can save the day. We can help you find just the extra set of hands to help around the house and extra loving arms to keep your child feeling safe and secure.
Find out how Go Au Pair can help today.