By Vicki Kirkman, LCSW, LCAC – February 21, 2017 – Courier & Press –
Stress is a natural part of life and something everyone experiences. It can be positive or negative and affect your daily life greatly if not managed appropriately.
In some situations, stress can motivate us to do better or work toward hard-to-reach goals. Other circumstances can leave someone feeling overwhelmed, anxious and out of control.
Children and teens are affected by stress in several ways. Parents need to remember that all children respond to situations differently. What causes stress for one child or teen might not affect another one.
However, some stressors are common for children and teens. These stressors include pressure at school, being involved in too many after-school activities, or conflict with friends and family.
Other big and complicated issues like divorce, death of a loved one, drug use, and financial problems at home contribute to stress. Medical illnesses and world events like natural disasters or war can also be sources of stress.
It’s important for parents to recognize signs of stress in their children and help them manage it in a healthy manner. Young children who are stressed out may complain of stomach aches, headaches or say they don’t feel well. At school, they may visit the school nurse frequently or try to avoid attending school. They may also be more tearful than normal, have trouble sleeping, wet the bed or not eat as much at meals. Some children experience nightmares or have acting-out behavior such as outbursts and tantrums.
Teenagers can experience many physical reactions to stress. Digestive problems and headaches, tense muscles, racing heart, frequent colds and feeling fatigued are all signs of stress. Teens might also feel overly emotional, irritable, depressed and experience mood swings.
Mentally, teens with stress overload may feel forgetful, lack concentration and have a negative attitude. Both children and teens often withdraw from activities they enjoy and isolate themselves from friends if they experience too much stress.
Parents can play a key role in helping their children and teens manage stress. Most importantly, parents can model good coping skills and stress management in their own lives. If children see their parents deal with stress in a healthy and positive manner, they are more likely to apply that to their own life.
Other ways parents can help their children are listed below.
- Teach your kids how to identify their body’s cues for stress overload. Pay attention to headaches, upset stomach, tearfulness or tense muscles.
- Limit extra-curricular activities. Too many evenings participating in sports, extra lessons or just running errands can cause kids and teens to become tired and pressed for time to do homework or just relax.
- Prepare ahead of time to avoid extra hassles. Lay out the next day’s clothes, pack lunches, put homework and bags in an easy place to grab, etc.
- Monitor and limit exposure to television, social media and cell phone use. Phones should be put away at night so kids can sleep and not be tempted to text friends or surf the internet.
- Encourage relaxation and leisurely activities with friends and family.
- Get plenty of rest and eat a healthy diet.
- Teach communication skills like problem-solving, good decision making and sharing feelings and thoughts with others.
- Recognize when stress is too big of an issue to tackle alone. Don’t hesitate to speak to a counselor, social worker or doctor for extra support and help.
Stress management is crucial in life and best handled with the guidance of parents and supportive adults. By helping children and teens manage stress, they can be better prepared for life’s challenges.