Helping your child cope with stress

In case a parent has noticed some behavioral changes in their child at the start of school than it’s a cause for concern. He may have been a laughing care-free kid during the summer hols but has now become cranky, crabby and a cry-baby ever since he started school.

It could be that he is not interested in doing his homework or is easily distracted and take much more time to complete the task. Even after school and an activity packed day of extra classes and games finds difficulty in falling asleep or has restless sleep.

All this denotes that your child is stressed and its high time you start to get worried and do something about it.

Stress is not something that only adults experience. Even kids can have their own share of stress and strain brought about by a number of factors like when a loved one dies, including a pet and when parents are having a troubled relationship or are getting divorced.

Parents figure out ways to cope with the stress in their lives. And in the same way they need to be able to teach their children to do the same.

So what can you do? How can you help your child cope with stress?

Janine Halloran is the Founder of Coping Skills for Kids and has the following suggestions:

1. Teach them a few quick calming strategies

When kids are experiencing stress, they need to be able to do something in the moment to calm down.

Teach these to your child so they have a few simple strategies.

  • Take a deep breath.

The key to a good deep breath is to have their belly move, not their chest. Have them put one hand on their belly and one hand on their chest. When they breathe in, their stomach should be moving out. And when they breathe out, their stomach should move in. Use props to make it more fun, like bubbles, a pinwheel, or laying down with a teddy bear on their stomach.

  •  Imagine your favorite place.

Have your child imagine their favorite place in the world. Maybe it’s the beach, or the woods, or in a quiet spot in your home. Have them use their senses to think about this place – what do they see, hear, feel? Encourage them to stay there for a few minutes.

  •  Pick a number.

Sometimes it’s helpful to focus on something simple, like counting. Have them pick a number and count to it. Or they could start with a random number, like 58, and count backwards down to one. Or they could start at 100 and count backwards down by 7’s. Try a few different ways of counting to see which works best.

2. Start a dialogue about the stress

Ask one or two open-ended questions and see where that leads. One simple way to ask about their day is to ask about the roses (the good things that happened), and thorns (the bad things that happened).

They may be more reluctant to talk with you face to face, so try talking in the car instead. Ask a question or two while you’re out and about in your vehicle.

If you’re having a hard time starting a verbal conversation, try writing instead. Start a special journal just for the two of you and start a conversation about what’s going with them, and what is stressful for them.

3. Simplify your schedule

There is such pressure to go and do CONSTANTLY. That puts a lot of stress on everyone in the family. Talk with your child about their schedule. Do they still like all of their activities? Is there something they’d like to stop doing? Cutting down to one or two activities a week would reduce stress. Simplifying the schedule would have the added benefit of allowing for some down time and freedom to play, which is a great stress reliever.

4. Find good distractions

There are times when you can do something to reduce stress, like cutting back on activities. However, there are times when you can’t fix it, like when their grandmother is ill. There isn’t anything they can do, but your child may keep thinking and thinking about it, to the point of being unable to focus at school. Then it’s time to try and take their mind off that stress.

  •  Find something that makes them laugh.

Tell silly jokes, make up some Would You Rather questions, or do a mad libs together. The simple act of laughter can make kids feel a little bit better and reduce stress.

  •  Help others.

Find a place that they can volunteer. Do random acts of kindness for others. Focusing on other people can distract from their own worries.

  •  Play a game.

Set aside a little time and pull out your favorite board game from when you were little. Teach them how to play. What a fun way to bond and connect with your child.

5. Model healthy coping strategies

As parents, we are our children’s first teachers. They watch our behaviors and see what we do when we’re stressed out. We need to model good, healthy coping strategies too. What are your go-to coping strategies? – Do you like to go to the gym? Knit? Do a crossword puzzle?

The next time you use a coping skill, share that information with your child. Acknowledge it out loud. “I’m so stressed right now, and I just need a quick break. I’m going to knit for 10 minutes.”

There will always be stress, but it’s all about how you manage it. The earlier your child can learn healthy coping skills, the bigger their repertoire of coping skills will be. With a good set of coping strategies, they can tackle stressful situations successfully.

You and your child have been writing back and forth in a journal, and you learned that she really didn’t like soccer anymore. It’s been two weeks since she stopped, and you’ve noticed her smile is starting to come back. She seems less stressed and you aren’t so worried anymore.

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