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Steps to Success » Parenting

Helping Children Cope with Stressful Times

Adults talk about being stressed, but we can sometimes forget that children experience stress too. They can be affected adversely by what may seem like little things such as a new sibling, a variation in their daily routine or a change in their environment. As a parent, you can’t stop all stress in your kid’s life, but you can help them develop healthy ways to cope with this common issue.

1. Make sleep a priority.
Sleep is vital to managing stress levels. Kids need this break to rejuvenate (even more so than adults), but they’re not always great at realising this. Help your child get enough sleep by creating an environment that facilitates it. For example, keep the TV and other electronic devices out of your child’s bedroom. Have a calming, consistent routine to help them wind down towards bed-time.

2. Prepare your kid to deal with mistakes.
According to research, a lot of stress in kids comes from the fear of making mistakes. It is therefore important to teach them tolerance of mistakes and help them see that they’re not supposed to do everything right, especially not on their first attempt. What’s more important is knowing how to fix the problem after it happens, to make amends, learn the lesson and move on.

3. Encourage your child to express his/her anxiety.
When your child expresses his/her anxiety or sadness, don’t brush them off by saying, ‘You’re fine.’ This can make your child think you don’t really listen or understand. Validate your child’s experience by saying things like, ‘Yes, you seem scared. What are you worried about?’ Have a discussion about his/her emotions and fear. This will encourage them to open up to you more so you’re able to help.

4. Help your child to problem solve.
Once you have validated your child’s emotions and demonstrated that you understand their experiences, help your child to problem solve. This does not mean doing everything for them. It means helping your child to identify possible solutions to their problems. If your child can generate some ideas that you can discuss, that’s great! If not, suggest a few possible solutions and ask your child to pick the one that he or she thinks would work best.

5. Stay Calm
Children pick up on their parents’ emotions and internalise them. If you are anxious, your child will feel that anxiety as well. So when you want to reduce your child’s stress, it’s important to approach the issue calmly. This may mean deliberately slowing down your own speech, taking a few deep breaths to relax, or working to ensure that your facial expression stays relaxed.

Anxiety and stress can be a big struggle, and often the source of a child’s anxiety changes over time so it can feel as though you are always putting out fires. With repetition of the stress management techniques discussed here, your child will gradually learn how to lower his/her anxiety level and cope with anxiety-provoking situations. The key is repetition, so keep it up!