7 Strategies to Ease Children’s Stress
It’s no secret that kids today are more stressed than ever. In a world of ever-increasing uncertainty, our children are feeling anxious in ways that we never experienced when we were young. Research also confirms our kids are stressed…and at far high levels than we may acknowledge.
A recent survey “APA Survey Raises Concern about Parent Perceptions of Children’s Stress” confirmed that parents not only underestimate their children’s stress levels, but also may not fully recognize the impact stress can have on physical and psychological health. Studies find that eight to ten percent of American kids are seriously troubled by stress and the symptoms associated with it. In fact, kids are now suffering from stress as early as the age of three—a shocking reality that is sadly going mostly undetected by parents. And then came the Pandemic.
If children and teens don’t learn healthy ways to manage stress, it can have both short-term consequences (bedwetting, short-temperedness, inability to focus, sleep-deprivation and weakened immunity from illness), as well as serious long-term health implications that can increase their likelihood for anxiety and depression. If left unchecked, stress can affect not only our children’s friendships and school success, but also their physical and emotional well-being. IT also reduces their abilities to thrive and become their personal best.
A common trait of resilient children is that they have learned protective buffers to help minimize stress build-up.
We can teach children healthy ways to manage their stress. In fact, doing so may be one of our most important tasks.
Here are a few stress-busting strategies that I shared on the TODAY show. Introduce your child to a few and see what resonates best. Then practice it repeatedly until your child can use the tool without you.
7 Simple Ways Help Kids Calm Down and De-Stress
1. Blow your worries away
Teach young children to blow their worries away by pretending to blow up a balloon in their tummy as you slowly count to three and then let it out with an exaggerated “ahhh” sound like they use at the doctors office. Place your child’s hands on his stomach for him to feel his breaths. Too often kids try to take quick, fast breaths from their chest instead of their stomach—it doesn’t work!
Say, “Taking a slow deep breath is an easy way to reduce your stress and let your worries out.”Kids can also practice taking slow, deep breaths using a pinwheel or bubble blower until they get the right “feel.” Young kids like to pretend that the bubbles are their worries blowing away.
2. Melt the tension
Tell your child to make his body feel stiff and straight like a wooden soldier so that every bone from his head to toe is “tense” (or “stressed”). Now tell him to make his body limp (or “relaxed”) like a rag doll or windsock. Once the child realizes he can make himself relax, he can find the spot in his body where he feels the most tension; perhaps his neck, shoulder muscles, or jaw. He then closes his eyes, concentrates on the spot, tensing it up for three or four seconds, and then lets it go. While doing so, tell your child to imagine the stress slowly melting away from the top of his head and out his toes until he feels relaxed or calmer.
3. Use a positive phrase to stay cool
Teach your child to say a comment inside her head to help her handle stress. She can say comment such as: “Calm down.” “I can do this.” “Stay calm and breathe slowly.” “It’s nothing I can’t handle.” Then repeat the comment until the child can use the phrase without your reminder. Your voice will become your child’s voice.
4. Visualize a calm place
Ask your child to think of an actual place he’s been to where he feels peaceful. For instance: the beach, his bed, grandpa’s backyard, a tree house. When stress kicks in, tell him to close his eyes, imagine that spot, while breathing slowly.
5. Teach a stress buster formula
A very effective strategy to help kids calm down and reduce stress is called “1 + 3 + 10.” Print the formula on large pieces of paper and hang it up in your child’s bedroom or on the fridge. Then tell the child how to use the formula. “As soon as you feel your body sending you a warning sign that says you’re getting tense, do three things. First, stop and tell yourself: ‘Be calm.’ That’s 1. Second, take three deep slow breaths from your tummy. That’s 3. Now count slowly to ten inside your head. That’s 10. Put them all together it’s 1 + 3 + 10 and doing it helps you stay cool.”
6. Make a stress box or a cool down corner
There is no right or wrong way to reduce stress, the key is to offer kids options so they can find what works best for them. And once they find their unique “stress buster” they must practice it over and over until they can use it on their own.
Families can create their own “Stress Box” by filing a shoebox or other container with proven stress reducers such as a notepad and pencil (to draw or write their stress away); a small Koosh ball, Playdoh or clay to work their stress out, an MP3 or CD player and relaxation sounds to listen to with earphones. The parent adds a new stress reducer to the box after it has been modeled with the child then encourages family members to go to the container and find their stress buster when the need arises.
Some educators set up Calm Down Corners in their classrooms that are equipped with stress reducers (books, Koosh balls, drawing materials) that students can use to help them relax. You can do the same in your home. Ask your children what would help them calm down. Gather things (beanbag chairs, pillows, music, iPods, bubble blowers) and stock them. The Calm Down Corner is used for discipline but to give children a feeling of agency that they can go to and relax.
7. Learn relaxation and breath control with yoga
Adolescents say a great tip that helps reduce their stress is learning yoga. In fact, many high schools are now offering yoga classes as an alternative for physical education. Purchase a yoga DVD that you can do at home together. Even better: invite another mom and daughter to join you and make yoga a weekly routine.
It takes lots of hard work to be a kid these days. Don’t let the stress that sometimes comes along with that hard work impede on the happy childhood that is your child’s right to have. Work with your child on ways to manage the stress that comes with growing up. In end, you’ll have a kid who is ready to deal with whatever pressures that they face with a healthy outlook. And who knows, you may learn a thing or two about blowing off some steam in the process!
I’m excited to announce the release of my new book, Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine on March 2! For forty years, I’ve wondered why some kids have a strong, We got this! attitude and discovered the science of resilience. Thrivers are made, not born.The book is packed with evidence-grounded strategies we can use to raise mentally and morally strong kids who are prepared to live and thrive in an uncertain world. I hope you like it!
For more about my work see my website, Michele Borba or follow me on twitter @MicheleBorba