Teach Your Kids to Stress Less
Being a kid means being carefree, right? Not necessarily. According to a new survey by the American Psychological Association of 1,206 kids ages 8 to 17, one-third say they worry a great deal or a lot -- and more than one-third report that they’re stressing more this year than last.
Why are kids so stressed? Dr. Caron Goode, author of Help Kids Cope with Stress & Trauma, says that the onslaught of media (television, radio, the Internet and mobile devices) in kids’ lives is a very real source of increased stress. Parents can shield kids from some adult stressors, like the evening news and violent TV programs, and should avoid over-scheduling their activities.
However, we can’t protect our children from every stressful situation that life throws at them. Instead, it’s important to teach them to recognize the signs of stress and learn how to react in a positive, healthy way -- especially now, when they are starting a new school year and coping with the additional stresses of meeting teachers and fitting in with classmates. Goode offers these practical tips for helping your kids stress less:
1. Identify the root fear
The first thing parents need to do is to sit down and listen to what kids are worrying about. Maybe it’s the fact that Dad is unemployed or that the oil spill in the Gulf has hurt the environment.
Goode says that when kids express a general anxiety, it’s important for parents to help them identify it more specifically by rephrasing their concerns.
Example: “It sounds like you’re worried that Dad lost his job.”
Then Goode suggests probing further to get to the root source of the fear.
Example: “What worries you about Dad not working?” (Perhaps it’s not having enough money for those new jeans.)
Lastly, channel the child’s concerns into a positive, affirmative action to help dissipate their feelings of helplessness.
Example: “Let’s come up with a plan for you to earn some money doing chores, so you can save up for those jeans.”
2. Recognize the signs of stress.
Parents can help kids recognize the signs of stress in their own bodies so they can take steps to calm down. Signs of stress include:
- Shortened breathing
- Pounding heart
- Feeling that “the walls are closing in”
3. Practice self-soothing techniques
Goode suggests practicing the following techniques with your kids, so they’ll know how to do them on their own:
Hand on the heart
“Research shows that when placing a hand on the heart and imagining something calming like a beach, the heart will be calmer within five minutes,” says Goode. “Kids can easily bring down their anxiety levels using this technique.”
This lowers blood pressure and heart rate, helping the body to relax. Goode says even just five deep breaths can help alleviate stress.
Blow away stress
Goode suggests telling children to close their eyes and imagine that their worry is a dark cloud hanging overhead. Tell the child to name the cloud, see the cloud, describe it, and then blow it away with a few deep breaths. This helps the child clear his mind.
Tell your child to imagine sunshine in her heart. Describe a bright light that feels calm and peaceful. The child can hold onto the light and use it to zap worries later. This technique is especially helpful for children dealing with bullying or an illness, because it gives them a sense of control.
3. Blow off steam
Getting regular exercise -- even for just 15 minutes -- can seriously reduce stress because it releases energy and endorphins. “When the body is in movement, there’s less inclination to focus on a negative mental stream,” says Goode.
4. Walk the dog.
Goode says that walking the family dog together can be one of the best ways to help a child stress less. “Children who walk a dog will usually talk things out with a parent if they walk together.” In addition, says Goode, stroking a pet has been shown to release oxytocin, the chemical responsible for bonding, which has a calming effect and reinforces closeness between a parent and child.
5. Connect with your kids
Above all, Goode says, the antidote to stress is connection. “I believe this technology-driven generation is missing the face-to-face conversations and the family dinners where we talk things out,” she says. Make connecting with your kids a priority. Turn off the technology. Schedule a family game night or a Sunday outing. That’s the kind of connection that keeps kids grounded, even in the face of stress.
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