The last few years caused families everywhere to learn to live with new kinds of stress. The COVID-19 pandemic created an unpredictable roller coaster of emotions most of us have never experienced, which makes now an important moment to pay attention to how our kids are dealing with stress.
Spotting the signs of too much stress
Stress is a perfectly normal part of life. However, kids—especially teenagers—aren’t likely to ask their parents for help with managing their stress. Often younger people don’t even recognize that they are feeling overly stressed, which means it’s up to parents or mentors to help them out. Here are a few signs your kids might need a hand:
- Emotional outbursts or increased irritability
If your children are acting out more than usual it might be stress. Feelings of anger and irritability become more intense when their world changes.
- Trouble sleeping
Worries and fears often come out at the worst time—bedtime! Children who are stressed may have a hard time with staying asleep or having nightmares after they fall asleep.
- Withdrawing from others
Sometimes we all want to get away. However, when children dramatically increase their alone time or quit interacting with friends it can be a sign of stress.
- Struggles with school
It’s natural to do better or worse in school at times, but if you notice significant changes in your children’s school performance it could be due to stress.
- Frequent headaches or stomachaches
Extra stress means extra hormones, which can trigger cramps, headaches and upset stomachs.
- Increased defiance
All kids can be stubborn, but stressed kids often act more stubborn than normal. Extra pressure in their lives causes them to feel angry and overwhelmed, which can lead to acting more defiant.
How you can help
It’s important to understand there’s no way to completely remove stress from your children’s life—trying to do so will only increase the stress in your own life! However, there are ways you can help prevent too much stress from negatively affecting your kids:
- Establish and keep routines
Routines provide children with reliable structure and support. Establishing a consistent night for family dinner or other activities gives everyone something to look forward to.
- Encourage a return to previous activities
The pandemic forced us all to find new ways to enjoy life. Thankfully, it’s now possible to return to some of our favorite pre-pandemic activities. Depending on your situation and local health recommendations, now may be a good time to start encouraging children to return to some of their favorite pastimes.
- Find humor in daily life
Have you ever noticed sometimes all you need is a good laugh? Encouraging your kids to find humor in life by watching comedies, telling jokes or playing games together can bring out moments of joy and alleviate stress.
- Play as a family
Movement is medicine, and that’s true when it comes to treating stress, too. Going for a bike ride, walk or playing a game as a family can help release stress and make fun memories at the same time.
- Encourage healthy diet and sleep habits
Kids who are sleepy, or worse, hangry, are rarely happy. Help your kids feel their best by encouraging a diet that includes a mix of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins to keep them full and focused. And don’t forget, a lack of sleep can trigger overreactions or emotional outbursts. Establishing a bedtime routine is a great way to make sure your children get enough sleep every night.
- Practice deep breathing together
Deep breathing is a great way to reduce stress levels. Help your children practice by taking deep breaths in for a count of five seconds, hold for two seconds and release to a count of five seconds.
- Enlist the help of children’s teachers
Your children’s teachers are around them as much, or in some cases, more than you. It’s important to make good use of that relationship by asking them how your children are doing. Sometimes, kids feel embarrassed about things that are happening at school and don’t want to talk about it at home. So, even if everything seems fine, it’s important to check in with teachers and school staff every so often.
- Manage your own mental health
Parenting is difficult no matter what. And it’s extra difficult if you’re struggling with your own mental health, so be sure to take steps to keep burnout and stress at bay in your life.
Stay positive, and don’t be afraid to ask for help
The world around us is changing quickly, which can be challenging for people young and old. If you or your children are having a tough time dealing with stress, try using some of the strategies above and you’re likely to see improvement. And if you’d like more help, always remember your primary health care provider is a great resource.