Many adults think of childhood as a carefree and enjoyable part of their lives. However, children can face stressors from many areas such as schoolwork, social needs, sports/other activities, family issues, and even world news. As a partner of the Together Counts™ program for healthy, active living, we understand that if parents forget these stressors, children can feel alone and can have trouble meeting their needs. There are a few ways to help children cope with stressful events in their lives.
- Think About What Might Be Causing Stress
Remember that children aren’t immune to stressful events happening around them. Children are frequently more sensitive to events and can blame themselves for things they have no responsibility for, such as a divorce or death of a loved one. Additionally, children’s emotional needs can change as they age. For example, physical issues they may not notice at age five can become worrisome at age 14.
- Take Care of Physical Health Needs
Providing for children’s needs starts with their physical well-being. Children need to have healthy diets, shelter, and safe conditions to allow for better emotional growth. Additionally, pay attention to common physical complaints such as headaches and stomach issues, as these can be physical signs of emotional stress.
- Be Sure They Are Getting Enough Sleep
Sleep is crucial to giving children the rest they need to develop and grow. The sleep needs of children change as they age, and each child can vary in the amount of sleep they need. As children age, the amount of sleep they need ranges from 8 to 12 hours.
- Talk to Your Children
Keep in mind that every child experiences events differently. Be sure to check in with them to see how they are handling events. Before an event happens, consider talking with them about what might happen. If your child is scared of a doctor’s appointment, talk about why people go to doctors and what will probably happen at this appointment. Instead of asking a vague, “what’s wrong?” consider asking about specific issues, such as their teacher or coach.
- Treat Their Feelings as Valid
Many well-meaning parents tell children things such as, “don’t worry”, or, “it’ll be okay.” Statements such as these teach children they shouldn’t have these feelings, which can make them reluctant to seek help. Instead, acknowledging their feelings with phrases such as, “You seem worried. What’s happening?” or “That sounds frustrating” validates feelings and gives your children terms and words to express feelings.
- Emphasize Learning Instead of Results
When children think of abilities as something “natural”, they can feel frustrated when they face difficulties in these areas. If they find themselves not excelling easily at activities, they can feel inadequate if they have to work at something or fearful of “looking bad” in front of people. Remind them that even people who make things look easy need to work hard and they make mistakes sometimes.
- Schedule “Down Time” and Unstructured Activities
Between school, sports, extracurricular activities, and other planned time, children can feel overbooked with no time to themselves. Children have been shown to exercise creativity and adaptability in unstructured play and time to relax. Try to think about your children’s down time when scheduling their activities.
- Help Your Child Find Their Own Solutions
This doesn’t mean you solve problems for them. Instead, ask your children for ways they would approach a problem and help them see the positive and negative aspects of each solution. For example, if they are having a problem with friends, you can discuss different ways to approach the problem or practice how to discuss a problem with friends.
- Consider Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques can take many shapes, including acting out coping skills, using art, counting, breathing techniques, and physical play. Mindfulness teaches us to pay attention to current feelings and experiences while creating stillness.
- Be Patient
Sometimes, children can feel embarrassed of their problems or feelings. It might take your child some time to be able to communicate feelings effectively or share a story. Simply listening to your children and letting them get to what they mean to say in their own time can help children really feel as if their needs matter.
Children of all ages feel stress in their lives from multiple sources. Parents are crucial in teaching children that while stress is a natural part of life, there are activities and thought processes to make it less nerve-racking. This process won’t be instant, but parents and children alike can benefit from thinking of how to manage stressful feelings.
SPARK is a research-based organization that provides award-winning, evidence-based programs for Physical Education (K-12), After School, Early Childhood, and Coordinated School Health and is a member of the Together Counts Program™. Since 1989, SPARK has provided curriculum, training, and consultation to over 100,000 teachers and youth leaders worldwide. Visit www.sparkpe.org to download sample lesson plans, find grant opportunities, and register for free educational webinars and monthly eNewsletters.
For more healthy ideas for the entire family check out these other posts from Together Counts!