Four Ways to Help Children Learn to Cope with Stress

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It might seem like childhood is all fun and games, but an increasing number of children are reporting feeling stressed.  In fact, a recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that, “one-fifth of children reported that they worry a lot but only three percent of parents rate their children’s stress as extreme.”

Stress frequently causes headaches, stomachaches, and nightmares or other sleep disturbance in young children.  Be aware of these potential symptoms so that you can help.

Clearly there is a disconnect between how kids are actually feeling versus how parents think their kids are feeling. 

According to this APA study, children (age 8-17) report worrying about things like performing well in school and their family’s financial situation.  That’s a lot for little kids to take on.

It’s no big secret that education has changed over the past twenty years.  Kids are being pushed to perform at a very young age.  The result?  Kids are reporting headaches, stomach problems, and sleep disturbance in response to this increased stress. They need to learn how to cope.  

Four ways to help children learn to cope with stress:

 

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Image via Flickr/Giacomo Carena

Connect the dots:

Although children are likely to report physical symptoms in response to stress, they are often unaware of the mind-body connection.  Stress frequently causes headaches, stomachaches, and nightmares or other sleep disturbance in young children.  Be aware of these potential symptoms so that you can help.

Talk about how stress affects the body.  Give your children the language to describe what they are feeling and to identify potential sources of stress.  When they begin to understand what stress feels like, they will be better able to seek help.

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Image via Flickr/bortescristian

Slow down:

Parents can’t do much about the rigorous academics that young children face each day, but they can control what happens outside of school.  Overscheduling children is a huge cause of stress for kids today.

Teach your children to slow down.  One or two after school activities at a time will suffice.  They don’t need three play dates per week.  Kids need downtime to decompress. 

Teach your kids to put on the brakes so that they can truly confront the stress that seems to linger just beneath the surface.  

 

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Image via Flickr/Orin Zebest

Encourage play:

Play is the language of children.  Play is how kids work through difficult things, practice social skills, and cope with stress. 

Kids need to learn how to simply sit down and relax.  For some that might mean reading or drawing, for others it might mean Legos, board games, or puzzles, and for many it might mean getting lost in an imaginary world of Strawberry Shortcake or some other favorite character for a while.  The options are endless when it comes to play. 

Encourage play.  Join the play if you are lucky enough to get an invitation.  Make the time to shut out the outside world and just have fun with your kids.

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Image via Flickr/familymwr

Teach visualization:

Guided imagery can be a very powerful tool for children.  Most kids already love to tap into their imagination regularly throughout the day.  Combining the imagination and relaxation breathing gives kids the necessary tools to slow down and check out for a few minutes.

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Have your child think about and describe an imaginary place that feels safe and calming. Teach your child to breathe in slowly (for a count of four), hold for three seconds, and then exhale slowly.  While your child works on relaxation breathing, tell a relaxing story about your child’s imaginary place.  Be detailed.  Take it slowly.  Savor the quiet.

When children practice visualization regularly, they learn to return to that place when confronted with stress throughout the day.

How do you help your kids cope with stress?

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Four Ways to Help Children Learn to Cope with Stress

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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