We all get stressed and find situations in life challenging at times. It’s no different with children, except most of them don’t know what’s going on internally – they just know they don’t feel right. Having tools available to help our children cope and deal with stress can help everyone, both in the immediate as well as long-term.
First, we need to help them identify what they’re feeling. Are they angry, hurt, feeling overwhelmed, or just hungry? Listen to them. Nod and validate their feelings. Validating emotions helps them feel heard and gives them a safe place to express themselves. And remember, sometimes adults get angry and react before we even realize it, so they may not be able to answer questions right away. They may first need help to calm down.
Things that can help immediately: hugs, deep breaths (do it with them over and over), a walk or run around the block (make it a race to redirect their focus), a punching bag in the garage, a pillow to scream into, a video or TV show to laugh at, or drawing a picture. If a young child can’t express themself, draw a stick figure on a piece of paper and ask them to pick a crayon and color how they feel.
Sometimes kids are just hungry. We learned one son really struggled dealing with homework and chores when he was hungry. His arguments weren’t “I’m hungry.” Instead, he got defiant, headstrong, and refused to eat – the opposite of what you would expect. When we paid attention to his eating schedule, we avoided many meltdowns. Having a snack ready after school can help kids transition into homework.
Overwhelming activities can add stress, especially when dealing with multiple deadlines all at once. Sometimes our fear of forgetting something adds to overwhelmed feelings. Create a list or bubble chart, or have them write in a journal to help express what’s in their head. Writing everything down helps release them from their short-term memory.
Help them then focus on just one task at a time. In our family, if you make a commitment, you follow through with it. However, on those rare occasions when it’s a particularly stressful day, we may excuse an activity in order to complete a major assignment and get to bed early. Teach kids to contact their coach or leader to explain why they’re absent.
Sleep is important for everyone. Kids fight bedtime, but we have to be firm and make sure they go to bed on time. Their brains and bodies are still growing, and they need rest. If they’re having a rough day, getting to bed earlier could help.
Hugs can be great stress-relievers. Sometimes we go through the entire day without any physical connection to anyone. I used to hug my young son for a full minute or longer, all while taking deep breaths. After the first 20 seconds or so, you could feel the energy pass between the two of us as our bodies became aligned. Soon his stress would dissipate and he calmed down.
Sometimes parenting can be a thankless job, and dealing with stressed-out kids can make it that much harder. If we take the time to help them learn how to deal with everyday stress, in the long run, it will help us out, too.
Denise M. Colby is a freelance writer who engages her readers through her articles, blogs, and marketing content. Find out more at www.denisemcolby.com.