Experiencing stress is a normal part of human life. And just like us, our children and youth experience stress on a regular basis.
However, as adults, many of us have already had the chance to develop our own skills and strategies for coping with stress – for example, we know how to set boundaries, when to take time to rest, and when to reach out to someone for help.
Our children on the other hand? They may struggle to cope with the stressors that life throws their way. They may not know how to say “no”, how to take breaks when they need to, and how to cope with big life transitions. They may also struggle to balance their school and social life, and they may not know how to express themselves if they are feeling overwhelmed.
The good news? As parents, educators, and youth workers, we can help to equip our children with the tools they need to stay resilient, to solve problems, and to prioritize their wellbeing to prevent their stress levels from spiralling out of control.
In light of Stress Awareness Week, here’s a brief look at five of the most common stressors kids face, and what we can do about it.
5 Common Stressors for Children
Before we get into what we can do to help our children learn how to manage stress, it’s important that we acknowledge the most common stressors that our children face regularly. This is not an exhaustive list, however, it is a list of five of the most common stressors to be aware of.
Coming off the heels of Bullying Prevention Month in the United States, it is important to note that many youth rank issues with friendship as one of their top three stressors. It is easy, especially for teens on social media, to look at everyone’s highlight reels and feel excluded or not enough. Unfortunately, physical, verbal, and emotional abuse can also still occur at school among kids, which is obviously a source of stress for many children.
For advice on bullying and mental health, check out our recent articles 5 Ways to Talk About Bullying with Your Child, 5 Ways to Stand Up to Bullying, and 5 Tips for Rising Above Mean Girl Mentality.
Tracks for development
The pressure to make it into university, find a career, and have a successful life can put a ton of pressure on children as young as 12. Gina Shaw (2015) writes about how a young 8th-grade girl in the U.S. was called into the guidance counselor’s office at the end of the year for something called “career cruising”, which is a self-exploration and assessment tool to help kids plan for their future.
Although well-intended, tools like this can put unnecessary pressure on kids, oftentimes making them feel like one small misstep may put them behind and subsequently ruin their entire life.
Kids as young as five also feel the pressure to succeed academically. For example, when I was in kindergarten, we learned how to get along with friends and share. My daughter in kindergarten today, however, already has a target to read at least 75 words by the end of the year.
The stress of a packed schedule can also be very overwhelming for children and can cause stress.
I remember one year I was bound and determined to have every one of my kids in an extracurricular activity outside of school. The problem was that none of our schedules lined up. Therefore, two had gymnastics one night (not at the same time) and one had ninja class a different night. I was working full-time, and my husband worked the night shift. We were exhausted, and we never saw each other. Now, we are more careful to build downtime into our schedules.
For advice on how to balance family life, check out our articles Self-Care for the Whole Family…How to Create a Plan to Strengthen Our Bodies and Minds and Back to Basics: 4 Key Ways to Maintain Good Mental Health at Home.
Family stress and changes
Big changes such as moving houses or schools, blending two families, getting divorced, or having a baby can cause stress on the children in your household.
A couple of years ago, my family made a big lifestyle shift by moving out into the countryside. It was a good change, but we definitely went through some growing pains while adjusting. If your children are melting down frequently, examine changes in your lives that have occurred recently. Even positive changes bring very physical symptoms of stress that we may be responding to.
Children learn how to manage stress from their parents. And if the adults in their lives are not coping well with stress, they will in turn experience feelings of stress and instability. As parents, it is important to take care of your own mental and physical health so that you can be there to help your child effectively manage their own wellbeing.
What Can We Do To Help?
So how can we proactively help our kids cope with stress? Here are a few ideas.
Make time for play!
In the classroom, kids are feeling the pressure to do more faster and earlier than ever before. However, making sure that they get enough time for unstructured play not only helps them blow off steam, but it is critical for their growth and development of stress management skills.
One of the best ways to help children build resilience is to maintain a strong connection with them. Make sure to build in time for meaningful, electronic-free conversation every day.
For advice on how to talk to your children, check out our recent articles Time to Talk…Practical Ways to Facilitate Conversations with Your Children, Ask Emma: Tricky Conversations & Opening Up, and Let’s Talk about our Feelings: Building Emotional Intelligence in our Children.
Stick to a routine
Yes, there are going to be days where it just doesn’t happen, no matter how hard you try. However, knowing that dinner is at 6:00 PM and bedtime is at 9:00 PM most nights is helpful for kids. Not knowing what to expect breeds feelings of stress, and having a somewhat predictable routine can help your child to feel more at ease.
Take care of yourself
As I stated before, our children are learning to manage stress by watching us. It is important to take care of our own needs so that we can focus on modeling healthy behaviors for them. It’s worth it!
Finally, reach out if you need help. Speak with a counselor or your doctor. Seek out a support group.
Here at The Lily-Jo Project, we also have an online forum/community where members are free to ask questions and seek advice from other parents and those that work with youth. I moderate the group, and we would love to have you! You can request to join here – looking forward to seeing you there
More Resources on Children and Stress
If you found this article helpful, check out these other resources on stress.
For Teachers: Check out our Curriculum on Stress and Resilience for Teens
If you are a teacher or school administrator, we also provide curriculum to use in the classroom. Our Break Free course is designed to help teens understand the basics of mental health, and what they can do to ‘break free’ from common symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression.
You can access this curriculum for ages 11-14 and ages 14-18 on our external online learning platform.
To get unlimited access to all of our video curriculum, you can also sign up for a backstage pass here.
About the Author: Brandy Browne
Brandy Browne is a care coordinator for a local mental health agency in the United States, as well as a family coach and blogger for UnStuck (www.unstucks.com) – her family coaching service aimed at helping families develop positive habits and breaking the cycle of generational trauma and poverty.
Her education is in early and elementary education, and she also has a masters degree in parenting and child/adolescent development. Brandy is a wife to her high school sweetheart of fifteen years, and together they share three children, aged ten, seven, and five. In her free time, she enjoys reading, gardening, writing, and distance running.