Monday, December 11, 2017

Stressed Out Kids

Helping Kids Deal with Stress and Anxiety in a Busy World

Our kids are bombarded every day with technology, activities, and a fast-paced life that makes my own head swim. Many daily stresses are to be expected, but sometimes the culminating effect of them on kids can take a toll and make them move from facing stress to dealing with distress.

Taking a timed math quiz, anticipating the results of a test, changes in friendships, and handling the strained family dynamics that can occur after the death of a loved one are just a few of the examples of things that can cause stress for kids (and the entire family). These are also examples of things that have caused stress in my own home this last year – ranging from the small to the more significant. Just as each situation is unique, so is the way that each child handles stress and anxiety.

When should we worry about stress?

According to Karen DeBoard, Ph.D., a Child Development Specialist reporting with the North Caroline Cooperative Extension Service, stress is a typical, normal response we have in reaction to disruptions that are not considered typical. DeBoard’s definition is a great one for parents to remember, because she highlights that the need to be concerned is when normal stress becomes too much stress, resulting in distress. It is this distress that can cause multiple signs and symptoms in our kids, many of which are dependent on the age, maturity, and experiences of our children.

  • Increases in heart rate and breathing
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches and stomach aches
  • Eating problems, such as extreme lack of appetite or overeating
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Regression behaviors (i.e. thumb sucking or bathroom accidents after they have already moved beyond those developmentally)
  • Behavioral issues such as outbursts or withdrawal

Stress vs. Distress

It is normal for our kids to experience one or even a few of these symptoms occasionally due to stress. However, repeated or prolonged displays of these types of behaviors can signal a deeper problem. This is when stress, according to DeBoard, becomes distress. It is this distress that manifests itself in these physical, emotional, and psychological ways that can negatively affect our kids.

Helping Our Kids Deal with Stress and Avoiding Distress

We can help our kids manage their stress and avoid that stress building into harmful distress by giving them tools for coping. Think of these tools as the buffer zones – the stress might still be smacking into our kids (we can’t put them into a bubble of protection) – but the coping tools can minimize the impacts.

Building healthy communication habits – When we work with our kids on communication skills, we can help improve their emotional intelligence and strengthen the likelihood that our kids feel confident in expressing their concerns. Even though I don’t necessarily like it when one of my kids is facing a stressful situation, there is some sense of relief and comfort when they can come to me or my husband and talk about what is occurring – the first step in solving most problems.

Acquiring a sense of personal accountability – Even though accountability can be stressful (Hey – what do we have to worry about if it is someone else’s problem?), it is also needed if our kids are going to learn how to manage their own anxieties and issues.

Learning coping strategies – Here is where I have learned so much about each of my kids. Not all coping strategies are going to work for all my kids, and their needs change as they grow and mature.

  • The Wholistic Stress Control Institute has a great program they outline here for helping kids develop coping strategies at young ages. Even if you don’t partake in their program, some of their ideas for stress coping skills are available online.

According to Novella Ruffin, Ph.D., helping kids deal with stress should include:

  • Acknowledging their feelings of stress and give them vocabulary that matches how they are feeling (i.e. butterflies in the stomach versus a stomach ache).
  • Promoting a positive environment where kids feel good about themselves.
  • Setting a good example. How do we deal with stress? If we yell, slam doors, turn to substances like alcohol or tobacco, our kids will learn that those reckless decisions are coping mechanisms – probably not the real lesson we are hoping to convey.
  • Helping kids learn through stories. I love this piece of advice! Kids are so effectively reached through storytelling where they feel safe and can relate to characters. The pressure is off of them and they can see the situation through the eyes of someone else safely.
  • Being aware of our children’s temperaments. It isn’t our job to try to change their temperaments, but to help them learn how to make the most of who they are and manage their own tendencies.
  • Teaching them calming skills – counting, deep breathing, visualizing, journaling, etc.
  • Giving them plenty of time and opportunities to just be kids. Sometimes our kid are so stressed out because they are taking on responsibilities and dealing with situations that make even adults uneasy.

Related posts:

  1. Help Your Kids Fight Their Fears
  2. 3 Foundations for Teaching Kids to Be Good Friends
  3. Play Like a Caveman with Your Kids

View full post on Parenting Tips For Raising Successful Kids | BetterParenting.com

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