It seems as though today’s children have a less carefree existence than previous generations. Society in general is moving at a faster pace, kids and parents are more heavily scheduled, and news of world disasters is more readily available. All of this can combine to cause a lot of extra stress in the lives of our children.
Stress in children can show itself in many different ways. Notice your child’s behaviour. Becoming more withdrawn or frequently lashing out may be clues that she is experiencing a higher level of stress. Not wanting to go to school or other activities, or consistently feeling sick when it is time to go can be an indication that there is a problem.
Spend one-on-one time with your child every day. If he opens up to you about something that is bothering him, listen attentively without pressuring him for details. Help him identify what he is feeling and try to help him work through it. Sometimes just putting a name to the feeling and knowing that someone understands can give him a great sense of relief.
Ensure that she’s eating and sleeping well. Staying healthy will help give her the energy to deal with life’s challenges. Allow time for plenty of fresh air and exercise. Being involved in organized sports is great, but she should also have time just to run and play and be a kid.
Stick to routines. When life is predictable, it makes it easier to weather ups and downs. Regular mealtimes and bedtimes are important.
Make sure there is some downtime in the household. Sometimes it seems like everyone is constantly running in different directions. Children’s school and activities, parents’ work and other commitments can create a constantly rushed atmosphere. It is important to find time for everyone to be together in a relaxed setting. It might be a sharing a meal, watching a movie, or going for a walk as a family.
Don’t involve your child in conversations he is not able to fully understand. Financial, marital, work or health problems can be upsetting for a child to hear about, and he may start to feel some responsibility for having created them or needing to resolve them. Even if you don’t think he is listening, save these conversations for times when he is not with you.
The same goes for tragic news events. If he is worried about something in the news such as a school shooting or a natural disaster, answer his questions in age-appropriate terms but assure him that he is safe.
Set a good example by taking care of yourself. A certain amount of stress is a fact of life, but you need to recognize when it is time to take a break from or eliminate major stress inducers.
Not only will your child learn healthy ways of dealing with stress, but when you as a parent are feeling good, you are far more prepared to handle the challenges of parenting.
Shawna Munro works at the Elspeth Reid Family Resource Centre, a facility of Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba that offers
parenting information and support.
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