Stress isn’t reserved for grown-ups. Relationships, school pressures and even problems experienced in the family or community at large can be troubling and overwhelming to kids of all ages. You may not know what’s bothering them, but it’s important to reach out and help them develop healthy ways to cope with their troubles and solve everyday problems. Here are some tips to try.
Tell your child you notice something is bothering them. Express it as a casual observation. You might say something like, “it seems as though you’re still mad about what happened at the playground the other day.” Show them you care, want to understand, and will listen.
Try to get the whole story. Allow time for your child to fully express concerns and be heard. You might try some gentle prompting questions such as, “And then what happened?” Avoid any urge to judge, blame or lecture your child.
Label the feelings. If your child seems angry or frustrated, putting those feelings into the descriptive words can help children learn how to recognize emotions and communicate feelings instead of acting out when their feelings boil over.
Brainstorm about a solution for a specific problem that’s causing stress. Having your child participate builds confidence. For example, you might say, “What can you do when Jerry calls you names?” Support your child’s good ideas and add to them as needed.
Collaborate on what would make them feel better. Sometimes just talking and listening is enough to melt a child’s frustration. Then, it’s time to move on. Ask what would make them feel happier and more relaxed. They may come up with a visit to the park or making a call to chat with Grandma, for example.
Limit stress where possible. Is there something you can change to take the pressure off your child? One suggestion: cutting back on multiple organized after-school activities. This can leave much needed time to play, unwind, and focus on homework, too.
Initiate something you can do together. Kids don’t always feel like talking about what’s bothering them. Sometimes they just need you to be there. Taking a walk together, baking cookies, or shooting hoops can be reassuring.
Introduce calming activities. If stress seems to make your child anxious or withdrawn, consider scheduling outdoor time in nature. Teach your child that sitting quietly and staring at the trees, sky, or babbling brook, for instance, can be relaxing and soothing when they feel overwhelmed.
Resist the urge to fix every problem. Instead, focus on helping your child, slowly but surely, grow into a good problem-solver–someone who knows how to roll with life’s ups and downs, put feelings into words, calm down when needed, and bounce back to try again.