by Rachelle Tannenbaum
The word "stress" generally implies an experience that is, to put it mildly, not fun. And we all know that under excessive stress people may feel anxious or overwhelmed; they may also develop problems with physical health, which of course create even more stress in turn. But is all stress bad? And what can parents do to help children cope with unhealthy stress? Read on to learn more. And who knows, maybe you’ll learn some tips to help yourself as well!
If you’d like to learn more about this topic, our courses “Helping Disorganized Kids Succeed in School” and “Managing Sibling Rivalry” may be of interest to you. Details about these and our other courses may be found by going to our courses page. And remember, we can bring our courses or design custom programs for your school or organization.
HELPING KIDS (AND PARENTS!) COPE WITH STRESS
by Rachelle Tannenbaum
First, it’s important to remember that not all stress is created equal. A certain level of stress is normal in our lives. It can even be helpful, keeping us alert and motivating us to act. (For example, when I give an exam, I want my students to be stressed enough to study—just not so stressed that they panic.) Psychologists distinguish between stress, which refers to the everyday need to adapt and adjust to situations, and distress, which is when stress becomes toxic. Distress negatively affects both physical and mental health. In this article, we focus on tips for eliminating distress while teaching children to cope with normal stress.
- Keep your child’s personality and temperament in mind when creating daily schedules. Children differ in terms of how much uncertainty and spontaneity they can handle. Some will become frustrated if there is no variety; others like the comfort and security of having set routines.
- Give your children choices and control where appropriate. This does not mean letting them do whatever they want, but it does mean acknowledging that even young children have preferences and desires. You might allow a preschooler to choose which of three shirts she wants to wear today, or encourage an older child to rearrange the furniture in his room.
- Plan ahead and be organized—and teach your children to do the same. This can help eliminate some sources of stress in the first place. Create designated spaces for children to leave their school things and for you to put your keys, to avoid frantic searching in the mornings. Make it easy for your kids to stay organized by labeling things clearly (using pictures for younger kids), making toy containers easy to open and easy to reach, etc.
- Allow your child to fail. This may seem counterintuitive when talking about stress reduction, but allowing your child some failures will, in the long run, encourage skills such as self-reliance, perseverance, organization, and compromise. This doesn’t mean that you should never help or guide your child—just that you should watch for situations where your child could potentially solve his or her own problems, then keep your distance and offer guidance rather than solutions.
- Make sure kids have friends. They don’t have to be surrounded by tons of friends all the time. Having even one friend to confide in can make a huge difference in the experience of stress.
- Everyone needs a place where they can go to be alone when necessary. Some people seek out others when they are stressed, but other people prefer to be alone. If your child is in the latter category, allow her that alone time rather than peppering her with questions or advice.
- Find a hobby. Everyone needs to have some sort of activity that they enjoy just for the fun of it. This can be a social activity, a form of exercise, a creative endeavor, or a more solitary activity such as reading.
- Exercise. Whether it’s alone or with others, part of a formal activity or an as-you-go exercise, it will go a long way toward reducing stress. Exercise won’t make other problems go away, but it will boost endorphins (naturally occurring chemicals in your brain that induce pleasant feelings, also sometimes called “runner’s high”). It will also boost your immune system, distract you from life’s problems, lead to a sense of accomplishment, and give you more energy in the long run. In addition, being overweight or out of shape is a major source of stress for many children and adults, so exercise will directly address those issues.
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