Helping Kids Cope with Stress Effectively
Stress is not the province of adults only. Young children and teenagers today encounter many stressful life events at earlier ages from homework (or homejoy as some schools call it), competition with other children, tight schedules, Co-curricular activities, and demanding parents.
Without learning any healthy coping strategy, kids understandably are unable to effectively manage stress. Consequently, children develop maladaptive stress-relief habits such as hair-pulling (Trichotillomania), nail-biting, and skin-picking. Other observable symptoms include mood swing, loss of appetite, teeth-grinding (bruxism), aggressiveness, loss of focus and concentration, irritability, reclusiveness, and bed-wetting.
Still others experience physical ailments such as migraines, stomachaches and headaches.
Under prolong stress, undesirable behaviors and falling academic performance may well be the inevitable outcomes.
Parents would do well to consider the following when helping their children and/or teens manage stress effectively:
- Ensure adequate and proper rest. A common misunderstanding among adults is that sleep equates to rest when restful sleep is what is really required.
To obtain a better night’s sleep, keep physical activities to a minimal before bedtime. Reduce consumption of caffeinated beverages as caffeine stays in the body for up to 12 hours and can cause insomnia. Playing computer games or watching engaging TV program prior to bedtime can over-stimulate your children’s mind causing fitful sleep.
- Cutback on nonessential after-school activities. Excessive activities packing your children’s days are counter-productive as children’s attention span is short.
- Ascertain that your children are getting sufficient nourishment. A balanced diet is essential for your children to flourish physically and mentally.
- Listen more, talk less. Asking open-ended questions allow your children to share their thoughts and feelings with you. Talk with your children but more importantly, listen to them.
- Understand their needs. Parents have to be sensitive to the fact that as children grow, so do their physical, emotional, and mental needs.
“Parents can improve a sense of competence by allowing children to structure their own tasks and by giving the child the feeling that he is loved and admired no matter how successful he or she is in math or language,”
researchers, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
- Setting reasonable and realistic boundaries. Get your children involved in the process of setting up boundaries. Negotiation — the process of give-and-take — is expected particularly with teenage children. In so doing, kids are more likely to abide by the rules set as they are consulted and committed.
Bear in mind that some boundaries are age-dependent hence periodic refinements are necessary as your children mature.
- Tailor your communication style to your children’s level of comprehension. Talk over their heads does not promote mutual understanding.
- Provide reassurance and support when your children encounter difficulties.
- You are your children’s role model. Show them how you cope with stressful situations and share your coping strategies.
In the event that the maladaptive behavior persists, when stress is causing serious anxiety or physical discomfort, or when the behavior is causing significant problems in functioning at school or at home, parents are advised to seek professional attention.