Helping a child who is going through a hard time can cause us as parents and guardians to stress. But it’s important to remain calm so that we can teach our children how to manage their stress in helpful ways. First of all, be on the lookout for the signs of stress in your child, which include:
- Irritability and anger
- Changes in behavior
- Trouble sleeping
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Eating changes
- Getting sick more often
If you see any or all of these signs, here are 3 ways you can help your child manage stress.
1. Head outdoors!
Okay, so time in nature may not fix everything, but getting outside each day is critical for kids and their emotions! Most children spend far too much time indoors and on screens. Activities like watching TV or playing video games aren’t “bad,” but too much time indoors doing these activities can cause your child to miss out on the benefits of fresh air and sunshine.
If your child is irritable, anxious, or prone to meltdowns, they may be low on vitamin D. Sunshine boosts your child’s mood and helps rid their brains of cortisol (stress hormone). Additionally, seeing birds flying, trees swaying, and experiencing other things in nature (like playing with leaves and dirt) is soothing and can be a welcome distraction from stress.
2. Practice a grounding technique.
Stress can lead to lots of tears, panic attacks, and even tantrums in children. If you’ve ever tried to help a crying child calm down, you may have discovered talking and saying things like “calm down” doesn’t do any good! When your child is crying uncontrollably, telling them to calm down isn’t an effective solution In fact, some studies have shown once children get into these heightened emotional states, they are physically unable to calm themselves down.
So what is the alternative? Coach them to take a few slow, deep breaths with you. Then do the “5 senses” grounding technique, which is when you just stop and help your child notice and count how many things they can hear, see, touch, taste, and smell. Going through each of the senses forces their brain to focus and slow down. Once they’ve stopped crying and appear to be calmer, you can talk through what happened and help them process what they’re feeling.
3. Pull them away from the stressful situation.
Stress can come in many shapes and sizes. For example, there’s a difference between chronic stress and acute stress. Chronic stress is when an ongoing issue causes our child fear, worry, or concern such as a divorce or moving to a new city. It can affect a child’s sleep patterns, their ability to connect with other children, and even their appetite. Acute stress, however, is when our child experiences a stressful situation like a scary scene in a movie or a loud family gathering. It too can affect their life, but the stress is usually short-lived.
Chronic stress may require the assistance of a counseling professional, but acute stress can be managed at home. If your child is at a large family gathering, for example, and you notice they’re starting to act irritable or withdrawn, you can pull them away from the chaos and noise. Excuse yourselves and go sit in a quiet car for a bit or go on a walk around the block. Less sensory input and a hug from you may be all they need to help them re-group.