Small amounts of stress are normal, but it can be difficult to know how best to support a child when they feel overwhelmed with worry. By adopting simple tips, lifestyle changes and mood- boosting activities, you can help your child overcome challenging situations and live a happier and more carefree life.
Make them feel “Good Enough” Not feeling good enough is a huge issue for children and it’s at the heart of a lot of childhood stress. Whether it’s unrealistic expectations at school – not everyone can come top of the class! – or unrealistic comparisons with celebrities and vloggers, children are often left feeling inadequate, a feeling they can carry forward through life. As parents we’re in pole position to counteract these pressures – and to make sure we’re not contributing to them without realizing it!
TAKE THEM SERIOUSLY
Younger children may fret about things that seem trivial to us, but take their concerns seriously and listen to their worries. They may be afraid of the noisy monster in the radiator, or heartbroken because they’ve just found out they’ll never get to ride a unicorn, but the fear or heartbreak they’re experiencing are very real to them. Whatever your child’s age, resist the urge to brush away their concerns. Try to see things from their point of view and aim to comfort them calmly without validating their fears.
HELP THEM TO WIND DOWN AFTER SCHOOL
If your child finds day-to-day school life challenging, it helps to make their home life as comforting as possible. Get a regular routine in place. If they need to burn off energy after school, send them outside with a ball or give them some gaming time. If they just need quiet time to process the day, let them listen to a podcast or read a book with a warm drink. Include a moment to chat one- to-one about their day when they’re ready to do so.
HELP THEM TO DEAL WITH DIFFICULT NEWS
From time to time, children are exposed to news stories that can be upsetting, confusing or downright scary. Even if your home is a news-free zone, social media and school pals will spread – and often exaggerate – what’s going on in the wider world. For younger children, the best approach is to keep things simple and reassure them that they’re safe. If older children seem affected by bad news stories, explore their thoughts or feelings to see where their worries lie first, then you can address any specific concerns. Listen and reassure them that their feelings are normal.
HELP THEM TO COPE WITH CHANGE
Changes to your family set-up can be tricky for children to negotiate. Parents separating, a house move or change of school, or the arrival of a new sibling can leave children feeling anxious as all that’s safe and familiar is swept away. How you handle these situations will depend on your child, but preparation and lots of reassurance are essential. Make sure that your child knows what to expect and ask them about any specifics that may be worrying them. For house or school moves, visiting the new area (if possible) will help. Age- appropriate books that discuss these issues can also be very useful.
HAVE CHAT CHECK-INS
Teach your children that talking about things makes us feel better. It’s nice to have a weekly family chat where everyone can discuss their activities and concerns, so that talking about feelings becomes a part of everyday life. For a stressed child, though, a regular quiet moment together, which could begin with a calming ritual such as making a drink or lighting a candle, can help your child to relax and enjoy some quiet conversation with you. You may not discuss their worries directly, but having a regular check-in and safe place to do it will be a reassurance and a comfort. Pick the time of day that suits your child best and have your check-in together then.
LEARN TO LISTEN
If your child is sharing their worries, let them speak without interruption. Don’t talk over them or leap in with advice – remember the discussion is about them. Make sure they feel able to talk without judgement. When they’ve finished speaking, empathise and show that you’ve understood how they’re feeling by reflecting it back: “That must feel so frustrating to you…”, for example. If you do have advice, ask if your child would like to hear it before sharing. And, if your children say things that you find hurtful to hear, try not to take it personally: remember all children have a very child-centric point of view.
WORK ON A DE-STRESS PLAN
By teaching your child what to do if they start to feel stressed, you’ll be helping them to break the stress cycle – and giving them a coping strategy that will set them up for life. Younger children can learn to stop, take slow calming breaths and focus on a positive word, thought or image. Practise this with them, choosing a focal point that suits them best – they might choose to imagine the sun shining brightly or to picture their favourite teddy, or they might choose a word to think about such as “calm” or “safe”. Older children can extend this by learning to put their situation in perspective and then thinking of the very first thing they need to do to move forward. Having something practical to do will help them feel in control of the situation. Show them how to choose something small, manageable and immediate, to make their situation seem less intimidating. STOP > BREATHE > THINK > ACT
SEND STRESS PACKING
Help your child to de-stress by doing something to symbolize getting rid of their worries. They could write down what’s worrying them on pieces of paper and put them in a worry jar, for example. Otherwise, they could scrunch their paper worries into a ball and simply throw them away.
Edited excerpt from ‘Help Your Child De-stress’ by Vicki Vrint. Published by VIE, priced £9.99