Kids and Stress
What are the symptoms of stress? You can probably name a few that you recognize in yourself – irritability, emotionality, trouble sleeping, inability to concentrate – but what you may not be aware of is that if you are under stress, your kids probably are, too. Like a cold virus that makes its way through the members of a family, stress is easy to pass on, without even realizing you’re doing it. The good news, though, is that if it’s easy to “catch” stress from your family members, it’s just as easy to share a relaxed attitude and healthy problem-solving skills.
First of all, it’s important to know what some of the signs of a child’s stress are, because sometimes that’s the best barometer of your own stress level and how it’s affecting the family. You may feel as though you’re coping just fine, but if your kids start to show some of the following behaviours, you may want to take a closer look at the stress “temperature” of the family:
· Aggressiveness, increase in fighting with other kids
· Crankiness, irritability
· Bedwetting or using the bathroom frequently
· Sensitivity, or a lack of resilience – not as able to cope with small upsets (like a sibling taking a toy) as usual or as would be expected
· Change in appetite
· Inability to concentrate
· Appearance or reappearance of nervous or self-soothing habits, such as thumb-sucking, hair twisting, wanting a security blanket
· Change in school performance
Kids also feel stress because of things happening just in their own lives, too, so don’t discount a complaint your child has or a comment made about pressures he’s facing (at school, in sports, socially), changes in the family (such as a big move or a divorce), or the way he’s feeling (particularly feelings of loneliness, fear, and not living up to expectations).
Parents can play an important role in helping their kids cope with stress. Unfortunately, coping skills aren’t something we are generally taught, so you as a role model are a potent teacher. Share coping skills like relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, and making “self care” a priority, that can all help your kids manage their own stress levels. Being realistic about your own schedule and what you can reasonably hope to accomplish in a given period of time is also a critical skill.
Being a member of a supportive family is a huge stress-reliever, so make a point of spending time together as a family – enjoying time doing fun things as a family is a great coping strategy, and if those activities include some physical exercise, even better.
Encourage healthy friendships in your children, and have your own social network. The impact on stress reduction of an hour spent with a good friend is profound.
Fostering independence in your kids is another great antidote to stress. When children feel competent and capable, and able to handle challenges, their stress levels naturally decrease. Teaching problem-solving skills is a great part of this, too. Use family meetings to practice problem-solving and conflict resolution skills.
Working with your child’s teacher and school can help, as well. Even if the main cause of stress isn’t academic pressure, encouraging kids to do their best with an emphasis more on efforts rather than results, can help kids learn to keep a healthy perspective and put their energy into activities that allow them to feel capable and in charge of their own lives.
Stress may be a common part of life, but it doesn’t have to dominate your life…or your children’s either.