“Helping Kids to Stress Less” written by Deb Hopper published in Great Health Guide (May 2016). Children are getting more stressed at school and in their environment. Deb has some great advice to help parents support their children through these times.
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PARENTING: Helping Kids to Stress Less
written by Deb Hopper
Our children are growing up in a fast paced world where information and opportunity overload can become overwhelming. The demands on children are increasing at school and after school activities can become constant or frenetic. Free play time for children is reducing and being replaced with commuting, after school care or screen time.
There are estimates that 1 in 5 children feel stressed, but often parents perceive their children as having lower levels of stress than children perceive in themselves. This means that adults have a tendency of not recognising the signs of stress in children and if children are showing warning signals, their levels of stress may be higher than that, which adults perceive.
As children grow, we may view them as more adult-like and more mature, meaning that we may see them as being able to handle more stress than they are actually capable of. There is a balance that we need to have, to be able to tread carefully with children. The balance between being helicopter parents, giving too much freedom or not supporting children enough can lead to too many freedoms too quickly and result in feelings that overwhelm children.
Some common signs of stress can include:
Complaints of feeling sick or headaches
Negative changes in behaviour
Talking negatively about themselves or that they can’t do this or that. Pay attention to their attitude
Dramatically increased time spent alone in bedroom
So how can we help our children reduce and cope better with stress?
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Five Top Tips to Help Kids Stress Less:
1. Create a safe haven at home
Creating a safe place at home is important especially for Tweens and Teens. If children feel safe at home, they will have a ‘retreat space’ to come to if things are feeling like they are getting too hard. Have an open house policy. Encourage them to bring their friends home. You can get to know them and support them a little too. Make your child and their friends feel welcome. Don’t cramp their style, but have a supply of food and treats, or bake so they look forward to hanging out at your place.
2. Have a culture of communication at home
Create regular rituals where you try and sit down and talk over dinner. Turn the TV off as a general rule and only put it on if you actively want to watch a show. Background noise is distracting and takes our attention away from conversation. Go on ‘date nights’ or out for pizza with your child once a month. Find out what they love to do and do it with them. BE with them when you do this. Turn off the phone and Facebook and make an effort to really talk with your child.
3. Encourage sports and active play
There is much research on the benefits of stress release after exercising. This is true for children too. Encourage after school sports, but if your days are full with commitments and commuting, even a short walk around the block together in the dark before bed can help to release stress, relax the mind and make sleep easier.
4. Create a space for reflection or quiet time every day
Encourage children to have time for reading, writing or sitting on their bed daydreaming. Down time is rare these days for children and adults. Quiet time is good for the brain and allows for better learning the following day.
5. Teach stress management techniques
Learning to manage stress is not something that comes naturally, especially with our busy lifestyles. Teaching children skills such as deep breathing, tense and relax muscle release strategies and positive affirmations can all help children to release their stress and tension and manage their thoughts more easily.
For a free chapter of Deb’s book Helping Children Soar in the Post-digital World: Teaching Kids to Stress Less, join Deb’s newsletter.