Has your son or daughter been acting gloomy or closed off lately? It's easy to write off child moodiness as a phase, hormones, or just another episode, but kids feel stress just as much as adults do. In some circumstances, even the most resilient child strains to adapt, causing stress for both the child and his or her guardians, so it's important to know the best stress management techniques for when your child deals with new and challenging situations.
While short bursts of stress can help us evolve into more capable people, chronic stress taxes our bodies and diminishes our ability to function. So while stress itself isn't necessarily a problem, knowing appropriate stress management tactics helps us moderate the effects.
The American Psychological Association recommends tackling child stress as a family. If you want to keep your kids' stress at bay, know that parental stress is contagious: Parents and guardians are models for their children's behavior, so if you are stressed, they will be, too. Promote an atmosphere where your kids feel free to talk about what's bothering them without fear of judgment or criticism, and reciprocate this behavior when it makes sense to do so. By keeping stress out in the open, it's less likely that a kid will internalize and practice self-blame.
Regardless of how a child feels at home, however, certain events will still cause stress. Moving to a new town and school is a perfect example. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages a double-edged approach in these situations: Emphasize the positives and the excitement of the move while also allowing your child to vent fears and frustrations. Adults should acknowledge whatever difficulties the move causes for them, as well. Again, giving your kid a chance to be vocal about their feelings is key. Just be sure to push them to become active in their new community by making new friends, and set a good example by doing the same.
For many children, especially middle-schoolers, school is an ongoing source of stress. This is to be expected. These years include unprecedented changes in everything: physical development, mental development, and social dynamics.
In order to help distinguish between normal and abnormal sources of stress, talk to your kids about any issues they're facing. Some common stresses, such as schoolwork or disagreements with friends, can be dealt with through reassurance and teaching moments. If the problem seems big or hard to define, try breaking it down into small pieces. Managing and making strides toward smaller goals helps give children — and parents — a sense of accomplishment and empowerment. As children get older, they may even wish to lead the way in tackling their problems. Have them propose a solution by coming up with a concrete plan.
The AAP cites studies that show one in five children has a mental health problem, so if your child appears to be seriously struggling, know the resources available to you. Like adults, children require specialized care, treatment plans, and support to successfully manage these challenges.
Stress does not always have to be a bad thing. With good stress management techniques for you and your child, tough times can become sources of bonding, communicating, and teamwork. Be open with your children, and use stress as motivation to improve your relationships with them and strengthen your family.