Teaching Children to Manage Stress and Anxiety
The Importance of Teaching Kids to Manage Stress
Stress is a fact of life. As adults, we all experience stressful situations, and all have our own ways of managing stress. While there is no way to stress, the techniques and strategies we use to manage our stress levels can have a significant impact on our emotional and physical well-being.
Children also experience stress. Many kids also have anxiety issues, and some may even be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Left to their own devices, children will develop their own coping mechanisms for dealing with their stress and anxiety - many of which will not be particularly effective or healthy.
As parents, it is vital to be aware of stress levels in our children at every age and to help teach them effective ways of managing stress and anxiety. These skills will serve them well throughout their entire lives.
Negative Effects of Stress and Anxiety on Children & Teens
High-stress levels or anxiety can have many possible negative effects, including:
- low self-esteem
- physical effects like headaches or digestive issues
- behaviour issues
- difficulty concentrating in school
- poor grades at school
- bullying - either as a victim or the bully
- eating disorders
- difficulty making or keeping friends
Causes of Stress and Anxiety in Children and Teens
There are many potential causes of stress in children, including:
- divorce or strained relations between parents
- death of family member, relative or pet
- major illness of a parent or other family member
- world or local news events
- health issues or illnesses
- moving to a new home
- peer pressure
- learning difficulties
- anxiety disorders
Symptoms of Stress in Children
It's important for parents to be able to recognize the signs of stress and anxiety in children, both to provide support if needed, and to teach them effective ways to handle their feelings and actions.
It's equally important to teach children to recognize these symptoms themselves so they can learn to understand what stress feels like, and what they can do to help themselves manage their stress levels.
Here are some possible signs of stress or anxiety in children:
- Crying over "little" things
- Lack of appetite or an unexplained change in eating habits
- Change in sleep patterns, such as sleeping much more or much less than usual
- Frequent headaches
- Becoming withdrawn
- Mood swings
- Bed wetting
- Experiencing nightmares or night terrors
- Sudden lack of interest in activities or friends
Many of these symptoms can have many other possible causes. It is important to seek out medical professionals to rule out any physical illnesses if you're unsure.
Stress-Relieving Techniques for Kids
The following activities can all be helpful in helping kids release tension and stress in healthy and productive ways and also can reduce anxiety levels.
- Deep breathing
- Relaxation exercises
- Regular physical exercise
- Listening to calm music
- Playing with pets
- Talking to a calm and non-judgemental friend, family member or trusted adult.
Stress-Relieving Deep Breathing
Tips for Teaching Kids to Manage Stress or Anxiety
- Help your child to label her emotions and feelings. For example, practice things like, "When Emily didn't invite me to her birthday party, I felt sad and left out."
- Help them build up a list of activities that they enjoy that they can do when they are feeling stressed, lonely or nervous.
- Model appropriate behaviour and reactions to stressful events you personally experience.
- Talk about your own feelings and experiences with anxiety or stress, in a positive and constructive manner. Try to avoid projecting your own insecurities to your children.
- Seek professional help if you suspect your child is depressed or likely to cause harm to themselves or others.
For more help and resources on issues around childhood stress or anxiety, check out the following websites:
- StopBullying.gov - Provides resources from various U.S. government agencies around bullying, including information on cyberbulling.
- Kids Help Phone - Canadian resource providing confidential counselling and assistance to children and teens, around a variety of issues. Provides free, 24 hour assistance and resources via phone, internet and through a mobile app.
- KidsHealth.org - Website providing information and advice for parents, teens and educators on a full range of kids' health issues, including childhood stress, anxiety, depression and bullying.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Kathy Sima