As parents and caregivers, we might see our children’s lives as being carefree and happy. Hey, they don’t have to pay the bills, take care of the household, feed the family or chauffeur people all over the place!
But kids experience plenty of stress. Our kids hear frightening things about our world from social media, their friends at school, or the news in the background. Scary things like school shootings, natural disasters and talks of nuclear war. They even can be worried about those experiencing a tragedy on the other side of the world. Depending on your child’s age, they may have a very limited understanding of things like geography, politics and the likelihood of specific events affecting them.
Add all that to everyday stresses of school and home life. Wow! There IS a lot to be stressed about!
Stress is part of everyday life. It’s our body’s natural response to situations in life; both good and bad. It can help kids develop the skills they need to cope with new situations and build resilience. But children and youth can become overwhelmed with stress. They often have difficulty realizing it and trouble expressing it. This puts them at risk for developing unhealthy changes in behaviour and mental illness.
So how can we as parents support our children through stressful times and reduce their stress? Here are some useful tips to keep in mind:
- Check in with your child often: Ask about things that they may be worrying about. Asking open-ended questions encourages them to talk more. For example, instead of saying: “Did you have a good day at school?” Try “What happened at school today?”
- Listen! Listen to your child without judgement and without interrupting. It’s often at bedtime that kids will want to chat about what’s on their mind.
- Recognize that children may not have words for their feelings, but instead may show changes in their appetite, sleep patterns and behaviour.
- Provide your child with the facts. Ask them what they heard about a specific situation so you can correct any misinformation. If you don’t know the answer, it’s okay to say “I don’t know”.
- Let your child know it’s okay to feel upset, and acknowledge their feelings. You may need to help them in expressing their feelings appropriately. For example, “You seem sad today” or “I understand that you’re angry, let’s talk about how you might be able to manage that”. It’s important to help your child identify and name their feelings.
- Maintain routines as much as possible: Kids need structure and consistency. If Friday night is movie night – keep it that way. Consistent bedtime routines help kids relax.
- Spend time with your children: They’ll be more likely to open up if you spend time together. Have some fun and laughter – there’s truth to the saying: “Laughter is the greatest medicine”!
- Watch what you say: Think about what you’re discussing with your partner or over the phone when the children are within listening range!
- Be a good role model: Show that you can remain calm and in control even when you are stressed.
- Monitor your stress level. Express your own emotions in a productive way and be sure to get enough sleep, nutrition and exercise. Children’s emotions are affected by those of the adults in their lives.
The world we live in may be scary at times. I hope that these tools will help you to address your children’s worries and prevent more serious problems in the long run.
If you have any concerns about your child, seek help. Keep communication open between home and school. Touch base with the teacher and keep them in the loop if you feel your child is going through a difficult time. There are Child Youth Counsellors and Social Workers available to support your child at school.
You can also call 311 in Halton Region and speak with a public health nurse for information and resources.
Do you have some other strategies you’d like to share with us around reducing stress for children? Share them with us:
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For parenting information or to speak with a public health nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.