Parenting Skills: Stress and Your Child:
Seven Steps to Teaching Stress Management
By Caron B. Goode
For many people the words childhood and carefree are interchangeable. Lazy summer days, best friends, and Friday night pizza parties are the stuff childhood memories are made of. Unfortunately, so is stress. Stress, the overwhelming feeling of self-doubt in one's ability to cope, has become as much a part of childhood as Little League.
As society in general, and parents in particular, experience greater levels of stress, so do our children. For many adults, stress is commonplace and easily identifiable, but for children it can be foreign and frightening. Feelings of sadness, anger, and hopelessness are not part of a typical child's day. Therefore when stressed, they become confused and require help shifting through these feelings.
Stress Through the Stages
Stress affects children differently as they grow. Preschool children often suffer stress because of situations that arise at home or in daycare, abrupt changes in the family structure or alterations to their daily routines. For grade school children, stress can be linked to a desire to please parents, teachers, and coaches. This age group can also be adversely affected by school and their new found social life. These types of stressors also have an impact on preteens and teens, as does dating and the academic pressure related to college admissions.
As with adults, children have unique reactions to stress depending on their personalities and predispositions. Some children act out while others become withdrawn. Some have nightmares, and some exhibit physical symptoms such as stomach aches. Therefore, the first step any parent must take towards helping their child manage stress, is to identify it.
Elementary Age Children: Children, ages four to eleven, are constantly changing, developing, and trying new behaviors. This makes it somewhat difficult, but not impossible, for parents to pinpoint stress. When children in this age group are experiencing stress they may react by:
- Crying Frequently
- Feeling Unloved
" Worrying Persistently
- Losing Trust
- Missing School
- Ignoring Friendships
- Complaining of Headaches
- Complaining of Stomach Aches
- Urinating Frequently
- Not Sleeping
- Not Eating
Preteens and Teens: This group of children, ages eleven through eighteen, is plagued with a variety of growing pains. No longer children, but not quite teens, this group is noted for its rebellious nature, mood swings, and desire for privacy. These characteristics are often confusing to parents and mock stress. Careful attention should be paid to these children because when additional stressors compound the stress associated with puberty, the results can be overwhelming. Adolescents and preteens react to stress with:
" Prolonged anger
- Low self-esteem
- Extreme behavior
- High risk behaviors
- Frequent Crying
- Excessive Irritability
- Skipping school
- Disrupted sleep
Parenting Skills: Helping Your Child Manage Stress
One of the greatest challenges all parents face is teaching their children to manage stress effectively. After identifying stress in their child, the next step in this process is for parents to learn to cope with their own stress. No matter what a child's age, they watch parents and search their behavior for clues. Therefore, being a good role model is imperative to helping children learn how to manage stress. Other steps include:
Avoid fixing situations or offering advice. If parents fix everything, either with words or actions, then their children never learn how to handle things for themselves.
Be a good listener because sometimes just listening and making a child feel truly heard will be enough to relieve a stressful situation.
Ask questions that encourage a child to think the situation through. Ask a lot of "what if" questions. Then follow up by asking things like, "What's the next step? or How would you handle that?"
" Encourage children to listen to their thoughts and feelings. When children know how they feel, they are more likely to see the situation and the solution more clearly.
Help them hear their thoughts and feelings. If a child is unsure of how a stressful situation makes him feel, help him learn to listen to himself by using quiet time or soft music to concentrate.
Deep breathing is an effective way of handling stress because it promotes feelings of relaxation, which can bring solutions to the forefront.
Exercise is another way of releasing stress and tension. Have the child walk the dog, stretch, or go out for a run. Any movement he enjoys will help ease stress.