9 Parent Tips to Teach Children to Manage Stress

Traditionally, many school-aged children love school and look forward to start of a new school year. But for other children, it’s also a time of great stress. In fact, stress—those overwhelming feelings of doubt about ourselves or our ability to handle things—is as common in children as adults.

The greatest challenge to parents today is teaching children to manage stress effectively. Children may react to excess stress with behavior that seems immature, inappropriate, or even disturbing. One child exhibits anxiety and tears the night before going back to school. Another child speaks of new teacher and asks her parents questions while trying to imagine the teacher's personality. Another child enjoys shopping for school clothes and looks forward to seeing new friends. 

Stress can be terrifying to children who lack the emotional maturity or experience to understand and deal with it. The challenge for parents, teachers, and other caretakers include how to recognize signs of stress in children of different ages, how to know when stress threatens to overwhelm a child, and what to do about it.

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In Nurture Your Child’s Gift, I offer excellent suggestions to help parents cope with their children’s stress. A stressed-out condition can result from a specific cause or from life in general. Here are some examples:

  • At 17, Jen was a high school senior expecting to graduate with honors in the Spring. Just before Christmas, however, Jen’s father lost his job and the family had to move into the basement of a cousin’s house. Jen soon developed a severe allergy, then asthma. The illness cost her so much time from school that she required home-schooling to make up the difference.
  • Mark was only two when his parents divorced. Confused, Mark wandered the house, calling plaintively for his father, but weekends with Dad made him cry. Most weekends, Mark developed upset stomachs that were so bad he’d miss preschool on Mondays.

Age-Related Stressors

Toddlers need to feel safe and comfortable. Stress for preschool children can arise from a new face at home or at day care, the disappearance of a familiar face, visiting lots of new places at once, or abrupt changes in the family’s structure, relationships or daily routine.
During the grade-school years, children become concerned with pleasing people like teachers, parents, guardians and coaches. School life—even a change in assigned seating or having to take a test—brings higher levels of stress every year. And when it comes to peers, even the threat of diminished acceptance is terrifying. Sleep-overs, birthday parties, sporting events and music competitions can trigger stressful reactions.
Through middle school and beyond, the pressures kids feel from parents, teachers, peers, society at large, and from within increases. Children have to learn adapt to these pressures. Because they have grown in their intelligence, curiosity and knowledge of community, demands for their attention, time, energy and effort can often feel like a tug of war. As in the cases of Mark and Jen, it is not unusual for life-altering events to express themselves in illness. At the University of Missouri, for instance, researcher Mark Flinn found that a child’s risk of upper-respiratory infection increases by 200 percent for the seven days following a high-stress event. And parents like Miranda’s might confuse what they believe are normal behavior with an expression of anxiety. Children often display their tensions in small acts that have aggressive undertones.

How You Can Help

  1. There are many ways parents can help their children deal with stress and stressful situations.
  2. Don’t try to fix everything for the child, and avoid offering advice. Sometimes just listening so that your child feels truly heard may be enough to relieve the stress.
  3. As you listen, ask questions that encourage your child to think a situation through. “What’s the next step?” or “How would you handle that?” are good questions. Ask a lot of “what-if” questions, too.
  4. Help children listen to themselves. Nurture Your Child’s Gift suggests quiet-time techniques for children to listen to nature sounds like rain or waves upon the beach, to their own heartbeat, or to recordings of whales, dolphins or birds.
  5. Encourage children to spend time listening to their thoughts. When they feel free to speak their own thoughts aloud about a situation, things suddenly become clear.
  6. Nurture Your Child’s Gift details a diaphragmatic breathing exercise for kids and parents. Shallow breathing is associated with the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. Deeper, effective breathing produces feelings of relaxation and calm.
  7. Use soothing and rhythmic music, even simple drumming, to help your child relieve muscle tension. It works!
  8. Don’t overlook exercise for releasing stress and tension. It works for your child just as it does for you. Have children walk the dog, get on the treadmill or stretch through easy yoga movements for children.  Any movement they enjoy will help ease stress away.
  9. Parents can do much to alleviate stress in their children’s lives. Effectively dealing with your own stress is the first step. Showing your kids how to release their stress comes next.

 

Copyright © Caron B. Goode.

Coaching Whole-Parent and Whole Child

When coaching whole parent, child or family member, the best coaching model is the wholistic viewpoint: involving the physical, mental, emotional, intuitive, spiritual, and social intelligences affecting each person.

It can be of no benefit to simply examine one or two of these intelligences.  This would not give you a holistically complete and thorough view of the child and parent. Coaching whole parents and whole children is more beneficial when you look beyond the surface level of behavior and symptoms. What is truly influencing or causing the reaction or behavior?

  • Temperaments?
  • Emotional frustration?
  • Lack of Understanding?
  • Need or more information?
  • Need for more experience? 

For example, if a child gets an ear ache or undefined tummy ache, do you check in with the doctor? Are medications enough? Not likely. It would be in everyone’s best interest to look at what is going on with that child from a whole perspective. Determine what is going emotionally, mentally and/or socially. A child may also be having trouble with a peer at daycare or in school or maybe even with the teacher. Emotional and social problems can show up as physical symptoms.

ACPI Coach and parent Kristy Dixon explains why:

"In coaching whole parent and whole-child, the parent is guided to self-discovery of their internal and external influences. They envision  their parenting goal and feeling baby steps of success along the way. When looking at the whole child, the parent is better able to help rather than punish that child. For example ,if a child is having a fit. the parents  would allow that child time to release their anger, frustration, disappointment, whatever it may be that needs to be released rather than labeling that child as ADHD, Oppositional Defiant, challenging, or out of control. If looking at the whole child one may find that the true culprit of this fit may be the result of the child “using up all of his good” (self-control and restraint) at school, or again of too much sugar in the diet or reaction to a food allergy, or of not feeling heard by his or her parents. Children struggle to learn how to express their feelings and needs appropriately. It is our job to investigate the mystery of what is causing this type of behavior. Then help the child express  in a more effective and safer way. However, we cannot do that if we do not thoroughly look at all influencing factors in the child’s life."

See also Coaching Whole-Parent and Whole Child 2