5 Ways to Help Your Child Cope With Stress

Since the beginning of the school year, you’ve been concerned about your child. You’ve noticed some troubling changes. Over the summer, she was always laughing but now that she’s in school, she’s irritable and crabby. Her homework is taking longer and longer. She’s doing soccer, karate and the dance team, so she’s busy every day after school. Even with all these activities, she’s still having a hard time falling asleep.

Your child is stressed, and you are worried about her.

Adults talk about being stressed, but we can sometimes forget that children experience stress too. Kids are worried about doing well in school and getting along with friends. They worry about their family and their pets. Kids also experience acute periods of stress, like when a loved one dies or when their parents get divorced.

How to help your child cope with stress.

As adults, we figure out ways to cope with the stress in our lives. We need to be able to teach our children to do the same. So what can you do? How can you help your child cope with stress?

  1. Teach them a few quick calming strategies

    When kids are experiencing stress, they need to be able to do something in the moment to calm down.

    Teach these to your child so they have a few simple strategies.

    Take a deep breath.

    The key to a good deep breath is to have their belly move, not their chest. Have them put one hand on their belly and one hand on their chest. When they breathe in, their stomach should be moving out. And when they breathe out, their stomach should move in. Use props to make it more fun, like bubbles, a pinwheel, or laying down with a teddy bear on their stomach.

    •  Imagine your favorite place.

    Have your child imagine their favorite place in the world. Maybe it’s the beach, or the woods, or in a quiet spot in your home. Have them use their senses to think about this place – what do they see, hear, feel? Encourage them to stay there for a few minutes.

    •  Pick a number.

    Sometimes it’s helpful to focus on something simple, like counting. Have them pick a number and count to it. Or they could start with a random number, like 58, and count backwards down to one. Or they could start at 100 and count backwards down by 7’s. Try a few different ways of counting to see which works best.

  1. Start a dialogue about the stress

    Ask one or two open-ended questions and see where that leads. One simple way to ask about their day is to ask about the roses (the good things that happened), and thorns (the bad things that happened).

    They may be more reluctant to talk with you face to face, so try talking in the car instead. Ask a question or two while you’re out and about in your vehicle.

    If you’re having a hard time starting a verbal conversation, try writing instead. Start a special journal just for the two of you and start a conversation about what’s going with them, and what is stressful for them.

  1. Simplify your schedule

    There is such pressure to go and do CONSTANTLY. That puts a lot of stress on everyone in the family. Talk with your child about their schedule. Do they still like all of their activities? Is there something they’d like to stop doing? Cutting down to one or two activities a week would reduce stress. Simplifying the schedule would have the added benefit of allowing for some down time and freedom to play, which is a great stress reliever.

  1. Find good distractions

    There are times when you can do something to reduce stress, like cutting back on activities. However, there are times when you can’t fix it, like when their grandmother is ill. There isn’t anything they can do, but your child may keep thinking and thinking about it, to the point of being unable to focus at school. Then it’s time to try and take their mind off that stress.

    •  Find something that makes them laugh.

    Tell silly jokes, make up some Would You Rather questions, or do a mad libs together. The simple act of laughter can make kids feel a little bit better and reduce stress.

    •  Help others.

    Find a place that they can volunteer. Do random acts of kindness for others. Focusing on other people can distract from their own worries.

    •  Play a game.

    Set aside a little time and pull out your favorite board game from when you were little. Teach them how to play. What a fun way to bond and connect with your child.

  1. Model healthy coping strategies

    As parents, we are our children’s first teachers. They watch our behaviors and see what we do when we’re stressed out. We need to model good, healthy coping strategies too. What are your go-to coping strategies? – Do you like to go to the gym? Knit? Do a crossword puzzle?

    The next time you use a coping skill, share that information with your child. Acknowledge it out loud. “I’m so stressed right now, and I just need a quick break. I’m going to knit for 10 minutes.”

There will always be stress, but it’s all about how you manage it. The earlier your child can learn healthy coping skills, the bigger their repertoire of coping skills will be. With a good set of coping strategies, they can tackle stressful situations successfully.

You and your child have been writing back and forth in a journal, and you learned that she really didn’t like soccer anymore. It’s been two weeks since she stopped, and you’ve noticed her smile is starting to come back. She seems less stressed and you aren’t so worried anymore.


About the Author: Janine Halloran

Janine HalloranJanine Halloran, LMHC is the Founder of Coping Skills for Kids where she provides products for parents to help their kids cope with stressful situations in healthy ways. She has been working with children, adolescents and their families for over 15 years. Janine lives in Massachusetts with her husband and their two children. When Janine isn’t working, you can find her in her garden or doing an arts and crafts project. To learn more about Coping Skills for Kids, follow on Twitter, Pinterest or Facebook.

9 Comments

Annipha

Thanks for the tips. My daughter is 8 yrs. She seems stressed out. I will try the strategies to bring back the happy her.

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Andrea

Thank you,Jenine for sharing such an helpful article…I knew some of tips and helps my siblings with it……But you showed some new steps to…..Keep posting this kind of article more.

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kidhealth protection

In general, parents’ pattern consists of three kinds.

First, authoritarian. The authoritarian parents are not giving children the freedom and force the children to meet the demands of their parents.

Second, permissive. Permissive parents free their children whatever they want even though a child is not able to make the right decision and let the child’s fault.

Third, authoritative. authoritative parents clearly define the consequences of any action taken, they do not curb children also did not release them, but continued to pay attention to the child and tried to form independent child. This authoritative pattern is best for the child’s personality. Stress can happen to a child when he was not able to meet the demands of their parents or because he had experienced of bad consequences due to improper decision.

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Maryanne Bass

Thanks, Janine! My nine-year-old granddaughter is cranky, critical and bored. Her parents are divorced and there is a new third party living with them. She is also huge for her age, slightly gifted and somewhat socially awkward. Your concrete suggestions may be helpful and remind me to be patient (and that has become really difficult. Best to you in your work

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Morgan

I’m not a parent but I am 10 years old I’m trying to cope with my stress I can’t work up enough confidence to talk to anyone so I disided to do some research and I found this very helpful I will try to remember those stratigies thank you.?

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Morgan it’s so great that you have tried to find ways to deal with your stress. I’m so pleased you found this site and that it’s been helpful for you. It means a lot to me that you let me know. Stress is very normal, even though it feels awful, so feeling overwhelmed sometimes doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you. In fact, you’re pretty wonderful being able to realise what you are feeling and actively looking for ways to deal with it. If you can, try to speak with an adult in your life who cares about you. Maybe a teacher or counsellor at your school or a parent, relative or family friend? Every adult in your life would have experienced stress before, and the people who care about you would love that you have trusted them enough to speak with them about what you are feeling. Otherwise, another really great way to help with stress is with something called mindfulness. It’s used in a lot of schools now because it’s such a healthy thing to do and brains love it! Here is some information about it, and some ways to do it https://www.heysigmund.com/mindfulness-for-children-fun-effective-ways-to-strengthen-mind-body-spirit/. If you are able to get access to an app (it’s free), Smiling Minds is a great one and gives guided meditations for all different ages from kids to adults. You can read more about it in number 11 of the article that I have given you the link for here. It’s wonderful that you’re looking for ways to deal with stress. It’s something that we all have to deal with at some point or another, and learning the skills to deal with stress early will put you way ahead. I know how difficult it can be to speak with people when you’re struggling, but if you can find an adult to talk to (if not someone at home, there will be people at school who would love to help you with this) it can really make a difference. I know this for certain because I struggle with things too from time to time – stress being one of them – and I know how much better I feel when I have a chat to someone I trust about it. You’re curious, aware of how you feel, and ready to find what to do about it – that makes you pretty wonderful.

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Mary

I have 9 year old boy. He seems very angry all the time, easy to stress out and very vocal. Thank you for this strategy and I will try to use it and be patient to him. More power to your work.

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We teach our kids to respect adults and other children, and they should – respect is an important part of growing up to be a pretty great human. There’s something else though that’s even more important – teaching them to respect themselves first. 

We can’t stop difficult people coming into their lives. They might be teachers, coaches, peers, and eventually, colleagues, or perhaps people connected to the people who love them. What we can do though is give our kids independence of mind and permission to recognise that person and their behaviour as unacceptable to them. We can teach our kids that being kind and respectful doesn’t necessarily mean accepting someone’s behaviour, beliefs or influence. 

The kindness and respect we teach our children to show to others should never be used against them by those broken others who might do harm. We have to recognise as adults that the words and attitudes directed to our children can be just as damaging as anything physical. 

If the behaviour is from an adult, it’s up to us to guard our child’s safe space in the world even harder. That might be by withdrawing support for the adult, using our own voice with the adult to elevate our child’s, asking our child what they need and how we can help, helping them find their voice, withdrawing them from the environment. 

Of course there will be times our children do or say things that aren’t okay, but this never makes it okay for any adult in your child’s life to treat them in a way that leads them to feeling ‘less than’.

Sometimes the difficult person will be a peer. There is no ‘one certain way’ to deal with this. Sometimes it will involve mediation, role playing responses, clarifying the other child’s behaviour, asking for support from other adults in the environment, or letting go of the friendship.

Learning that it’s okay to let go of relationships is such an important part of full living. Too often we hold on to people who don’t deserve us. Not everyone who comes into our lives is meant to stay and if we can help our children start to think about this when they’re young, they’ll be so much more empowered and deliberate in their relationships when they’re older.♥️
When we are angry, there will always be another emotion underneath it. It is this way for all of us. 

Anger itself is a valid emotion so it’s important not to dismiss it. Emotion is e-motion - energy in motion. It has to find a way out, which is why telling an angry child to calm down or to keep their bodies still will only make things worse for them. They might comply, but their bodies will still be in a state of distress. 

Often, beneath an angry child is an anxious one needing our help. It’s the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. As with all emotions, anger has a job to do - to help us to safety through movement, or to recruit support, or to give us the physical resources to meet a need or to change something that needs changing. It doesn’t mean it does the job well, because an angry brain means the feeling brain has the baton, while the thinking brain sits out for a while. What it means is that there is a valid need there and this young person is doing their very best to meet it, given their available resources in the moment or their developmental stage. 

Children need the same thing we all need when we’re feeling fierce - to be seen,  heard, and supported; to find a way to get the energy out, either with words or movement. Not to be shut down or ‘fixed’. 

Our job isn’t to stop their anger, but to help them find ways to feel it and express it in ways that don’t do damage. This will take lots of experience, and lots of time - and that’s okay.♥️
The SCCR Online Conference 2021 is a wonderful initiative by @sccrcentre (Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution) which will explore ’The Power of Reconnection’. I’ve been working with SCCR for many years. They do incredible work to build relationships between young people and the important adults around them, and I’m excited to be working with them again as part of this conference.

More than ever, relationships matter. They heal, provide a buffer against stress, and make the world feel a little softer and safer for our young people. Building meaningful connections can take time, and even the strongest relationships can feel the effects of disconnection from time to time. As part of this free webinar, I’ll be talking about the power of attachment relationships, and ways to build relationships with the children and teens in your life that protect, strengthen, and heal. 

The workshop will be on Monday 11 October at 7pm Brisbane, Australia time (10am Scotland time). The link to register is in my story.
There are many things that can send a nervous system into distress. These can include physiological (tired, hungry, unwell), sensory overload/ underload, real or perceived threat (anxiety), stressed resources (having to share, pay attention, learn new things, putting a lid on what they really think or want - the things that can send any of us to the end of ourselves).

Most of the time it’s developmental - the grown up brain is being built and still has a way to go. Like all beautiful, strong, important things, brains take time to build. The part of the brain that has a heavy hand in regulation launches into its big developmental window when kids are about 6 years old. It won’t be fully done developing until mid-late 20s. This is a great thing - it means we have a wide window of influence, and there is no hurry.

Like any building work, on the way to completion things will get messy sometimes - and that’s okay. It’s not a reflection of your young one and it’s not a reflection of your parenting. It’s a reflection of a brain in the midst of a build. It’s wondrous and fascinating and frustrating and maddening - it’s all the things.

The messy times are part of their development, not glitches in it. They are how it’s meant to be. They are important opportunities for us to influence their growth. It’s just how it happens. We have to be careful not to judge our children or ourselves because of these messy times, or let the judgement of others fill the space where love, curiosity, and gentle guidance should be. For sure, some days this will be easy, and some days it will feel harder - like splitting an atom with an axe kind of hard.

Their growth will always be best nurtured in the calm, loving space beside us. It won’t happen through punishment, ever. Consequences have a place if they make sense and are delivered in a way that doesn’t shame or separate them from us, either physically or emotionally. The best ‘consequence’ is the conversation with you in a space that is held by your warm loving strong presence, in a way that makes it safe for both of you to be curious, explore options, and understand what happened.♥️
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#mindfulparenting #positiveparenting #parenting
When children are struggling to physically control their bodies, we support them in ways that strengthen. If they’re struggling to write, for example, we don’t punish or shame them. We guide them and show them by doing ‘with’. We also lift them up, ‘I know you can do this. Keep going. You’re getting better and better.’ We also don’t wait for perfection. ‘You wrote a number 4! Nice work you!’ We sit with and do with, over and over. We also give them a break when they get frustrated or upset.

It’s the same for behaviour. Big behaviour comes from big feelings or attempts to meet valid needs. (And all needs are valid.) It is this way for all of us. When we’re upset or angry, the last thing we need is for someone to tell us we can’t be, or to lecture or shame us. Kids are the same.

With kids and teens though, there can be a sense that we need to ‘do’ something in response to big behaviour, so we lay down punishments or consequences with a view to teaching a lesson.

But - unless the consequences make sense (punishments never do), they risk teaching lessons we don’t want them to learn:
- that the environment is fragile and won’t tolerate mistakes. 
- that secrecy and lies are a safer option than coming to us. 
- shut down. They put a lid on expressing big feelings. The feelings will still be there, but they aren’t getting the vital guidance from us on how to calm them (through co-regulation). The risk is that they will eventually call on unhealthy ways to calm the fierce stress neurobiology that comes with big feelings.

Consequences have to make sense. Maybe it’s to repair or reconnect. Discipline has to teach. It’s not about what we do to them but about what we nurture within them. Is that trust and the capacity to learn and grow? Or is it fear or shame.

Often the only response that’s needed is a loving conversation with us. ‘What happened?’ ‘What were you hoping would happen?’ ‘What did you need that you didn’t get?’ What can you do differently next time?’ ‘How can you put things right?’ Because if discipline is about learning, the most powerful consequence is the strong, loving conversation with us that lights their way and speaks softly to the safety of us.♥️

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