We all face stress in our daily lives, and it affects us significantly. There are stressful and sometimes traumatic one-off events that can happen.
For example, if you’re in a car accident, you may feel an immediate sense of fear and panic. You may even feel temporarily frozen. Then, after the accident, you might begin to process what happened, and you can develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
Along with specific stressful events, we often deal with chronic, low-level stress related to work, home life, and relationships.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, we have all likely had even more added to our plates emotionally.
We tend to think of children as resilient, but they sometimes feel the stress of life more than we even realize. They may internalize or deal with it differently, and their feelings can come out in specific ways.
Children have had their school, social, and activity routines disrupted and may be dealing with more stress right now than ever before.
How to Help a Child Deal with Stress
As parents, we can make sure that we’re thinking about how difficult situations are possibly affecting our kids with all of that in mind. We can help them learn healthy coping mechanisms to deal with what they’re going through.
As a parent, below are some of the ways you can help your child deal with stress.
Reduce Stress In Their Lives
Inevitably, we all face some stress, but when you have a child, there are specific steps you can take to at least reduce it.
- First, acknowledge what your child feels if you notice they seem upset or anxious. You should also develop a sense of trust so that your child feels comfortable coming to you with their honest feelings.
- Be supportive, and listen but do try to give your child the space to solve their own problems.
- Set clear expectations, but don’t be too rigid.
- You should also avoid over-scheduling your child. Stick with just the most meaningful activities.
- As hard as it can sometimes be, try to be aware of not just what you want but what your child wants.
- Try to limit exposure to things that could induce stress in your child. For example, watching the news can be difficult for some kids, and even if you think they aren’t paying attention to what’s on the screen, they probably are.
Encourage Your Child to Face Their Fears
There are some things your child doesn’t need to face early on in life. We can go back to the example of the news.
However, there are things that your child might be afraid of in their daily lives that you should encourage them to face.
- Don’t encourage your child to avoid altogether those day-to-day situations that might produce anxiety.
- Instead, when your child faces something they find stressful, they can learn that their anxiety will naturally go down over time.
- As your child is facing something they’re worried about or fearful of, you should try to reframe what they’re going through. You want to help them develop a “stress helps” mindset, so they learn some stress can be beneficial and help them grow and develop in their life.
- As part of this, you also want to help your child understand that they can improve their situation and it’s within their power to do so. They might not be able to fully “fix” whatever it is, but they should learn it’s within their power to influence it.
Model What You Want for Your Child
If you want your child to prioritize self-care, approaching her fears, and positive thinking, there’s no better place to start than with your behaviors.
- You should stay calm and express your feelings, including frustration and anger in appropriate ways.
- If you’re working through a stressful situation yourself, then you can share that with your child and go over what steps you’re going to take to reduce the impact of the situation.
- Show your child that taking time out of your schedule to relax is essential, and model that you take care of your mental well-being.
Encourage Creative Expression
Whether it’s drawing, painting, writing, playing an instrument, or exercising, just like adults, children need a creative outlet. Having an outlet is a great way to manage stress, and you should carve out time from your child’s schedule that they can dedicate to these things.
Talk with Your Child About What They’re Feeling
Sometimes, if our child tells us they’re feeling a certain way, including scared or worried, we might incline to minimize it or tell them they’re fine. We’re trying to help, but this can be counterproductive.
You want your child to feel heard and validated. You don’t have to make their fears worse by reinforcing them, but you can ask open-ended questions, such as “why are you feeling worried.”
Help Your Child Learn to Problem Solve
As parents, we may want to fix everything for our kids, but then in doing so, we’re setting them up for failure. One of the most important skills we can all have is problem-solving.
You can validate your child’s feelings and demonstrate that you hear them, but that doesn’t mean you immediately jump into trying to solve whatever the problem is.
Work with your child to help them identify possible solutions and steps they can take. Once your child has come up with a few options, you can ask them what they think the best is.
Finally, you want your child to develop an arsenal of healthy, productive coping skills.
Work on relaxation exercises. For example, when your child seems to be anxious, maybe you do deep-breathing exercises. You can also have your child imagine imagery that’s calming for them.
Our goal as parents isn’t to entirely remove stress from our children’s lives because that’s not possible. Instead, our goal is to be active listeners and help them develop positive coping and relaxation skills, as well as a sense of resilience.