Stress is linked to myriad health problems including high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity. We know it when we, as adults, are super stressed out. But what about our kids? According to the American Psychological Association (APA), children are more stressed now than ever before, and we parents are oblivious.
We tend to assume that what our kids worry about are things that make headlines, like social pressures, body image and school. As it turns out, in a survey done by the APA, children between the ages of eight and seventeen worried most about social interactions and school, but family finances were the second highest-rated causes of stress.
What’s worse is that we as parents are in complete denial about stress in children. While over 30 percent of children surveyed reported headaches and sleeplessness from stress, only 13 percent of parents believed their children suffered from those stress-related ailments.
In an effort to help our kids cope with the ever increasing mountain of stress, we need to focus on a few universal stress management tools and techniques that show empathy, love, and strength.
1. Create a safe space
Kids need to know they can come to you with any worry at any time. The concern over being a burden or an interruption can often deter a child from coming to their parent to express their worries.
One of the most important ways you can communicate to your kid that what they think, feel and need is important is to put your phone down (or whatever else you might be doing, but let’s be honest, it’s your phone) the minute they approach you. If you absolutely must finish the email, pause, look them in the eye and acknowledge their request, then give them an exact amount of time you need to finish whatever time sensitive thing you’re working on.
And here’s the important part: HONOR IT. Create a safe space where they know they’re heard is paramount to giving your kids a sense of stability and unfaltering compassion.
2. Encourage healthy habits
Adults aren’t the only ones who devolve into bad habits when the going gets tough. Getting enough sleep, enough exercise and a healthy diet are not options, they are necessities, especially for young growing bodies. You know how awful and stressed you feel when you haven’t slept enough, it’s the same if not worse for kids.
You can make this easier on yourself and you kids by prepping healthy snacks that are readily available and having a consistent evening routine. Limiting the use of electronics before bed is also extremely important to helping children wind down and relax their mind in preparation for a restful night of sleep.
3. Promote peace
Regardless of your religious affiliations, meditation is an important tool in maintaining a healthy mind and body. Meditation is proven to be beneficial in combating many of the stress related illnesses mentioned above. It is one of the most universal tools for managing stress and coping with challenging life events and experiences.
Whether you start your day with a five minute family yoga practice, have an evening ritual of praying together, or turn on an app and do a guided meditation, these foundations of finding a peaceful state of mind will carry your children throughout their lives.
4. Be aware of the mirror effect
We all have bad days. Sadly, the people who see the worst of us on those days are often our children. Dr. William Sears, pediatrician and parenting expert, explains that if you are not content or are struggling with negative emotions your children can often interpret that as a reflection of your feelings about them. This can create an endless loop of stress between you and your child.
Being aware of your emotions and modeling healthy processing of an entire range of emotions will create a sense of balance for them. This means you also have to be empathetic to their emotional states. Don’t be a push over, but avoid gaslighting them and belittling their feelings.
5. Get help when it's needed
The reality is, not all of us are equipped to help our children with every problem they have. Be honest with yourself, if your child is facing something and you’re at a loss on how to help them, reach out to friends, family, and professionals. There is no shame in calling in reinforcements be it a night out for your daughter with her favorite aunt or setting up counseling sessions for your son.
Looking for extra stress support for your child? These natural solutions may help: