How to handle stress in your childrenWritten by Jackson Greer
When I was younger, my brother and I played a game where we would try to read our parents’ minds.
We’d invent conversations between our parents to guess their thoughts or feelings. Most of the time, we imagined our dad’s opinions on the latest sports highlight or our mom’s plans for dinner that night. But other times, our game took a slightly different turn.
Some nights, we noticed our parents acted a bit differently. We couldn’t always tell why, but their conversations just felt strange to us. We noticed changes in tone or volume. Sometimes, we heard long lists of questions or urgent phone calls.
Often, we rarely knew what happened within these conversations. But we could tell something was different. And it affected us.
Thinking about it now, those moments that felt different as a kid, were situations of stress for my parents. Imagine that . . . parents feeling stress. Yet, as kids, my brother and I had no clue. But their stress still influenced us.
For parents, it’s important to know your actions, words and behaviours affect your kids. That might sound like a self-evident statement, but there’s no understating your impact upon your kids. Your response to stress in your own life shapes how your children view you. However, your personal stress isn’t the only thing that might cause stress in your children.
So, what should you do to help your children handle their stress? Well, understanding what might cause stress in your children is an excellent first step.
Causes of stress in children
Across any age, children’s responses to stress depend on their personalities, interests and perspectives. Similarly, the cause of stress in your children depends on a variety of influences.
It can be easy to blame external factors or explain away difficulties as growing pains. However, understanding what causes stress in your children can provide a path towards peace.
Consider your own child’s activities and schedule. Think about the following list of common causes of childhood stress to find any connections in your own life.
High expectations within the classroom can lead to worry about performance. Stress in this area can connect with a fear of making mistakes or perfection.
Alongside academics, activities such as sports, drama, art or music can cause stress in your children. Learn to support your children through these activities. Consider that you might be over-scheduling your child.
Whether subtle or overt, this is a serious problem for many children. Apart from stress, bullying can lead to embarrassment, withdrawal and progressive negative thoughts and emotions.
This can be a tricky one as your children grow and develop. Look for stress within friendships at those key transition stages such as middle school, high school and college.
This one can be subtle. Major life changes might seem obvious, but sometimes the effects can have rippling effects within your children. From the arrival of a new sibling to a divorce to an unexpected move or death, family changes can unfortunately cause stress in your children.
Signs of stress in children
It is normal for your child to feel a wide range of emotions such as fear, anger and worry. But, when these emotions begin to affect your child’s behaviour and daily habits, there might be more significant problems.
Stress is different from anxiety. While stress and anxiety are synonymous with worry and fear, they do contain distinct differences. Most importantly, stress is usually more isolated than anxiety. Anxiety is characterized by persistent worries that don’t seem to go away. On the other hand, stress is a natural and common response to a situation such as a life change or external threat.
The processes of addressing stress and anxiety contain key differences. If you think your child might experience prolonged worry or fear, consider reading some of our resources on anxiety.
Let’s explore some of the primary signs of stress in your children.
Behavioural or mental
- Difficulty concentrating
- Getting into trouble at school
- Rise in number of fears
- Uncharacteristic disobedience
- Angry outbursts
- Unusual patterns of crying
- Withdrawing from family or friends
- Unexpected stomach pain
- Headaches or migraines
- Biting nails
- Trouble sleeping
- Excessive fighting
While these signs might not always indicate stress, they can be helpful in determining when appropriate actions are necessary.
Stress and your family
Some families are predisposed to stress because of a variety of influences. Maybe there could be an external source of pressure that causes unwanted stress. For some children, there could be a social or academic source of stress. Perhaps it might be a cultural or geographic influence that impacts the amount of stress within your life.
Regardless of the source, stress unfortunately touches everyone in a family. Take a pregnancy for example. Alongside the joy and wonder in the hope of a new child, stress exists. And it extends beyond the mother and the baby. The father experiences stress in providing care and support. Other children find stress in navigating the implications attached to the arrival of a new sibling. Even grandparents experience stress throughout the stages of a pregnancy.
Learning to appropriately address stress in your own life will benefit your family, especially your children. Remember, your children observe changes in your behaviour. How you treat your spouse, your family and your children serves as a window into your own heart. Even though your children might not understand every little detail of your life, they certainly see changes in your mood and actions. At times, things within your life can influence and create stress in your children. And when coupled with different external stressors from school, friends, extracurricular activities and their own world, stress can begin to overwhelm your kids.
Steps to managing stress
Establishing healthy patterns is essential to overcoming stress in your children. Yet, it might not always seem like the easiest thing to do. Helping your child learn to cope with stress can take time. And that’s okay.
Managing stress changes as our environments change, and that happens a lot as your children grow up. However, as a parent, you can provide hope and comfort for your children by creating security in habits and positive activities.
Throughout the Bible, it’s no coincidence that when a variety of people talk about how to address stress, they usually mention prayer.
Within Psalm 55:22, King David writes, “Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”
In another psalm, David writes, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.”
Even modern news sources recognize the positive influence of prayer over stress.
Point your child towards both physical and spiritual comfort. Try guiding your child to a quieter place either within your house or even outside. Help calm him by asking questions with a peaceful tone. Then, begin to pray! Start with short sentences, even pausing can help too. Finally, ask your child if he has anything he wants to pray about too. If you need help modelling prayers, consider looking through the Psalms or Jesus’ prayers.
Finding the best way to release stress is important for your kids. Like prayer, your role as a parent can help encourage your kids towards positively expressing their stress to find peace and comfort. Remember, you know your children best, so create a path to releasing stress that puts them first! Explore some of the following ideas for your kids.
Exercise: Consistent exercise is one of the best ways to release stress. Encourage your children to maintain exercise through a sport they enjoy, playing outside, biking or even going on walks. Try to join your child in these activities to model commitment and build unity.
Write or draw: Depending on the age of your child, writing could be a helpful medium to release stressful thoughts and feelings. Perhaps for younger children consider opening a fresh pack of crayons and paper or even directing them towards a digital outlet for navigating stress.
- Travel: While this could mean a traditional week-long vacation, also consider a day’s escape to a place they’ve never been before. Try changing your child’s environment to create distance from something that might cause stress. Then, address key topics by asking thoughtful questions.
Acknowledging your children’s feelings is critical to success. Providing reassurance that their thoughts and feelings are valid communicates how much you love and value them.
When addressing stress with your children, remember to maintain positive touch and body language. Look them in the eye and give them a hug. Sometimes physical touch shows support more than your words.
Learn to balance your instruction and teaching with your listening and support. About children, the prophet Isaiah says, “All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children” (Isaiah 54:13). With faithfulness and trust, the Lord will guide your children. Focus on cultivating trust with your kids.
Be honest with your kids about your own struggles. Appropriately sharing your experiences can provide support between you and your children.
Final thoughts on handling stress in your children
Remember to be gracious with yourself and your kids. Ensure that your kids know you love them for who they are. Give yourself and your kids equal amounts of time to learn and grow.
If you would like to talk to someone further about stress in your children or need help finding a counsellor in your area, Focus on the Family Canada offers a one-time complimentary consultation from a Christian world view. You can reach a counsellor at 1.800.661.9800.
Jackson Greer is a content producer for Focus on the Family in the U.S. He lives in Colorado Springs with his wife, Clara. They love feeding birds, debating whether or not to get a cat, and reading William Carlos Williams’ poetry together. Also, he is a former high school English teacher and a proud subscriber to multiple peanut butter roasters across the U.S.
© 2021 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Originally published at FocusOnTheFamily.com.
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