As an adult who carries the stress of work, family, chores, and finances, it might be easy to forget that our kids are experiencing stress as well. They spend their days assimilating new information, navigating school, and developing relationships; the constant “input” can be overwhelming. Help your child handle stressful situations and develop healthy coping mechanisms by following these five simple steps.
1. Listen Carefully
It might be difficult to distinguish between short-term agitation and long-term stress. Listen carefully to see if they are just cranky after a long day away from home, or if something chronic is bothering them. Are they always getting into arguments with the same kids? Are they struggling with one subject in particular? If you start noticing patterns in their stress levels, try to dig deeper to see if you can get to the root of the problem using the tools listed below.
2. Ask and Label
Sometimes just simply asking “is something bothering you?” and “do you want to talk about it?” is enough to help your child feel seen. If they choose to share, prompt them to label their feelings. Stress is a complex emotion, and it can be really difficult for a child to understand feelings of stress, anxiety, or sadness. Ask them if they feel sad, nervous, angry, or lonely. Helping them identify their feelings can help you find appropriate coping mechanisms.
3. Respond with Reflective Statements
If your child is having difficulty labeling their feelings, ask them to tell you about something that’s on their mind a lot. Then, try to respond with reflective statements. Reflective statements are statements like, “it sounds like…”. For example, if your child tells you that they feel left out with a group of kids at school, you can respond with, “it sounds like that makes you feel sad” or “it sounds like that hurts your feelings”. Sometimes simply identifying the specific feeling can immediately help dissipate the feelings of stress.
4. Help Them Get to Know Themselves
Let your child know that everyone is different and that means everyone has different needs. Sometimes stress has nothing to do with a particular incident or situation, but can be brought on when a child feels like their boundaries are being crossed. For example, some kids are naturally extroverted and love to socialize, while others might be more introverted and sensitive, and feel stressed in social situations. Helping them understand their own needs and how to set boundaries can be helpful for coping with stressful situations.
5. Help Them Develop Coping Strategies
Most kids need a little bit of guidance when it comes to coping strategies. Coloring, playing outside, or diving into a creative project can help mitigate stress, but it’s important to note that effective coping strategies might be child-specific. Some kids might be drawn to journal, and others might prefer to talk with a parent or friend. Some children might thrive when they are with close friends, and others might need some time alone in order to process their feelings. As a parent, you can offer choices, and then simply observe what works best for your child to best guide them in the future.
Do your kids experience stress? What’s worked best for them? Let us know in the comments below!