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.

Reply
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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The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

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