Dealing with stress is a mechanism we need in life. While there is positive stress, there is also negative stress. Developing coping mechanisms to deal with negative stress can be a difficult and trying time. Children and adolescents learning to handle stress as they navigate it for the first time, need guidance and support. Learn what to do when stress gets serious. First, identify the signs of high-stress levels. Then take action and help them while also teaching important coping skills.
Knowing the Signs
A drastic change in behavior is the biggest indicator that something is going on. Seeing many changes in behavior is your sign to intervene.
Common behavioral changes include:
- Sudden changes in mood
- Changes in eating habits
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Withdrawing and choosing isolation
How You Can Help
Once you’ve seen a drastic behavioral shift, it’s time to help. You know them best and how to approach them in a loving and caring way. Do that to help establish a safe environment for them to open up and share what’s going on. Depending on the situation, your child or teen may not want solutions on how to fix their problems. Instead, focus on how to help them cope.
- Remind your child or teen that they do have control over their life. Feelings of losing control often bring on stress. While they can’t control how the situation affects them, they have complete control over the actions they take in response to it.
- Provide downtime. Often times children and teens don’t have a lot of time to sit and reflect. By encouraging relaxing low-energy activities, you can provide them with that necessary time.
- Teach the effectiveness of breathing. The reason we see breathing mentioned so often in stress and anxiety management is that it physically helps. Breathing deeply brings more oxygen to the brain and lowers the negative effects of stress hormones.
- Learn how their body reacts to stress. When you both know how to identify the onset of stress in the future it can help your child or teen become more proactive.
- Spend positive time together. Make an effort to surround them with love and enjoy something positive together. It can be as simple as a walk in nature, playing a fun game, or having a movie night with one of their favorite films.
- Ensure a good night’s sleep. Help them establish a calming nighttime routine. Stress makes sleep hard which in turn makes stress worse. Breaking the cycle and getting good sleep is essential.
- Encourage exercise or sports/ games that are physical. Exercise is proven to help lower stress even if it’s light.
- Talk with them. Sometimes talking it out can be helpful for them to identify the problems or stressors. Plus providing a loving safe environment can put them at ease in the moment.
- Teach mindfulness. Kids and teens with these skills are more likely to better cope with future stressful situations.
Activities for Managing Stress
There are many ways to manage stress. Some may already be things your child or adolescent does. Encourage those activities in times of stress or introduce them to something new.
- Pick up a good book or listen to one
- Do a puzzle
- Take a bath
- Take a walk outside
- Bake or cook something special
- Meditate or focus on breathing
- Clean or organize your space
- Try progressive muscle relaxation
- Crochet or knit
- Spend time with pets
- Practice gratitude
- Spend time with loved ones
- Try something new like a restaurant, store, or movie
- Listen to music
Having a relaxing activity or hobby is great to lean on when stress comes around. Help your child or teen learn what those activities are for themselves. And you’ll be able to encourage those the next time they’re feeling stressed.
Know that stress is good. It’s stress that gets us out of bed, keeps us productive, and keeps us fulfilled. However, too much negative stress can have adverse effects, especially if it’s not addressed. When stress gets serious, remember that it’s an opportunity to equip them with an essential skill. And delving into relaxation techniques can be a fun and enjoyable experience.
Sources: The American Institute of Stress, National Education Association, Perdue University Global, Tenet Health, Nemours Kids Health, Psych Central, Very Well Mind