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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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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