Can children be stressed out? Experts say, “Yes.” Usually, we think of stress as an adult condition that skips over kids. However, kids’ stress does take a toll when you consider academic class loads, full schedules and peer pressure. Stress can easily affect children as young as grade-school age.
So, what are some signs that your child might be feeling stressed? Both short-term and long-term behavioral changes can sometimes be an indicator. Look for changes such as bed-wetting, mood swings, difficulty in school, headaches, stomachaches or changes in sleep.
Older children may also display behaviors such as lying, questioning authority or overreacting to circumstances.
Regardless of the stress our children may be experiencing, there are simple and helpful ways to help reduce their stress levels.
Unload their Schedule
I, personally, have to remind myself that my kids are, well, just kids. I cannot and should not expect them to carry the emotional burdens of adults. This means I need to make sure they have time to be kids.
For many of us, that includes freeing up their extracurricular schedule and building in down-time or free-time instead. Einstein said, “Play is the highest form of research.” The more they play, even older kids, the more they are able to tackle things like school with greater resilience.
Talk It Out (Or Don’t)
Taking the time to sit down and talk with our kids is one of the best ways for us to know what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling. I’ve found that my kids are the most open to talking in the car or right before bed (Stalling tactic? Perhaps).
I like to ask them open ended questions, such as “How are you feeling today?” Or, “What have you been thinking about lately?” If I can tell something is bothering them, I may ask “What things have been exciting or frustrating you these days?”
While we are hopeful that they will open up and answer us, sometimes kids don’t want to talk or they simply aren’t ready. Instead, they just need to spend time with us and know they are safe. I never want to force my kids to talk, but I do want them to know I’m available whenever they’re ready.
We all know that exercise is one of the best stress-busters around for adults, and the same goes for kids. A game of basketball, a family hike or an after-dinner walk can all help reduce stress.
But, don’t be afraid to think outside the box, too. How about a yoga class or video, a pajama dance party or a push-up competition? These kinds of exercises disguised as fun, family activities will soothe kids’ minds and emotions.
Just like I need to remind myself that my kids need to be kids, I also have to remember that, for them, so many things in life are brand new. What we as adults take for granted or have experienced dozens of times, for children, it is often a new experience filled with many unknowns.
If you have a child who leans more towards anxiety or is naturally more stressed, than preparing them for bigger events may prove helpful. One of my children is a worrier, and if my husband and I aren’t proactive, he will spend hours awake at night worrying about small things that “feel” big.
For example, my family is currently looking to move into a new home. This can be an overwhelming and potentially frightening scenario for some kids. In an effort to prevent any unnecessary stress, we have included our children (and especially our worrier) in the process. We have explained what moving will be like, how long it will take, what we are looking for in a new home, etc. Where our worrisome child would tend to fill in any missing details or unanswered questions with worry, he now has details and answers directly from mom and dad. And, this has made all the difference.