As much as it angers us, stress is an inevitable part of human life. There are all sorts of factors that contribute to stress, from drastic life changes to financial problems to being overworked at school or our jobs. With April being Stress Awareness Month, we thought we would write up a simple guide in teaching kids how to handle stress, so that they can learn how to healthily manage it for years to come.
What is Stress?
Stress is our body’s way of responding to high volumes of demand or threat. It triggers an internal fight-or-flight response, which causes our brain to release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. This causes our hearts to pound faster, muscles to tighten and breath become quicker. It’s the body’s way of protecting you, and if handled properly, can help you stay focused, energetic and alert.
While stress in adults is often caused by pressures at work, moving house or separation from a partner, young people can experience forms of stress too. Stress can come on from having too many afterschool activities, friendship troubles and academic pressures as they get older. While kids’ stresses may seem ‘less severe’ due to their age, they should not be ignored.
Talking It Out
The first step in getting children to manage stress is by encouraging them to talk someone. Whether it’s a parent or trusted adult, kids need to be frequently reminded that they shouldn’t have to face stress alone. If a child confides in you about something that is stressing them out, do not dismiss them; the smallest thing to you may be an all-consuming issue for them. Hear them out and try offering solutions to reduce the problem at hand. You may find that they just need someone to listen to them and get some weight off their chest. Expressing interest in their problems shows them they are important to you, and in turn, boosts their self confidence.
Managing It Independently
There are many things young people can do to try and cope with stress by themselves. Sit down with them and create a mind map of things that they enjoy doing or what makes them feel calm. Whether it’s sitting down with a colouring book (it’s not just for toddlers now, adults are doing it, too!), dancing to their favourite song, playing a game or watching a film, let them know that there are plenty of ways for them to unwind.
Learning to Prioritise
It is also important to teach children not to over-schedule themselves and prioritise by learning how to say no. This can be tricky to explain, especially for younger kids, but gently reminding them that they don’t have to take up every opportunity presented to them will be especially helpful later down the line, as they start to become more independent in academia and life in general. Teaching your kids about making good, thoughtful decisions by weighing up the pros and cons will be a valuable skill in learning how to cope with stress.
Back to Basics
Make sure your kids go to bed early, and enforce a ‘no screens’ rule an hour before bed to ensure good quality of sleep. Instead of driving or taking the bus, why not persuade the whole family to walk short distances, to encourage gentle exercise. Introduce kids to healthy foods during meal-times and emphasise the importance of a balanced diet. Sweets and junk food are nice on occasion, but an apple a day keeps the doctor away – and more importantly, the stress! Enforcing healthy lifestyle habits will ensure that children and young people carry those habits with them throughout their lives.
Here at Health and Care, we have a range of programs designed to help young people manage their stress, from work books to board games to discussion cards. Have a browse at our Anger and Stress Books, to help educate both you and your child on how to manage life’s daily stresses.
Did you find this article useful? What are some other ways that you or your kids manage stress? We would love to hear from you in the comments below!