Just because kids are little doesn’t mean their stress is pint-sized, too. Recent studies show that stress, anxiety and psychosomatic complaints are increasingly common in today’s children. In fact, stress accounts for a large percentage of physician visits and school absences. That’s the bad news.
The good news is there’s a lot we can do to help kids manage their stress. And it can be as easy as A-B-C.
Assess the situation. Observation and dialog (not interrogation) are the best first steps. Anxiety in children often shows up as physical complaints: stomach aches, headaches, difficulty breathing, and rapid heartbeat. Other red flags include obsession with a negative idea or occurrence, aggressive or disruptive behavior, and new stressors like bullying, learning disabilities, even being late to school.
Ask your children open-ended questions: How does stress make you feel? What makes those feelings get better or worse? What do you do when you feel this way? These questions will help you understand your children’s anxiety better, and will help them develop the language skills and confidence to talk about their stress.
Believe what you see. When our children are hurting, often our first impulse is to fix the symptoms — with a hug, medication, or reassurance that things will get better. Resist that impulse! It minimizes what your children are feeling, and often “blames” them for their stress. I remember dragging my 10-year-old self home from school one day, clearly upset. My mom took one look at my face and asked, “What’s wrong with you?” I mumbled that some kids had been teasing me again. Her response stays with me to this day: “If you’d lose some weight, you wouldn’t have that problem.” Double whammy! Stress from the kids at school, compounded at home. My problem wasn’t fat, it was anxiety. Acknowledge the stress. Your child needs to know you’re an ally, not a critic, and that you will find a way to help. Then deliver on that promise.
Change your child’s response to stress. Our bodies constantly send clues to our minds when we’re stressed. When kids learn how to interpret their body’s messages — and are equipped with simple, successful, easy-to-use tools — they can respond to those messages in safe and healthy ways. Do some research, talk with professionals, and learn how to help your children recognize stress and self-regulate their response to it.
You’ll be giving them the gift of a lifetime.
Debra Timmerman is a Registered Nurse, Healing Touch practitioner, and co-founder of Simply Successful Kids.
Coming soon: Easy-to-use tools…How meditation, mindfulness, and self-regulation can make life better for our kids.