Local experts Suzanne Stevenson, Brad Schwall, Ph.D., and Rebekah Christner talk about preventing stress and helping your children cope with it:
Suzanne: There are two types of stress, good and bad. Good stress helps adults and children “get things done.” Bad stress is constant and unrelenting, called distress. It can actually make adults and children feel sick.
Keep these things in mind as spring schedules blossom into full bloom. Parents may notice more tension and anxiety in their children but cannot pinpoint the source. Spring stress comes on gradually – after-school activities such as soccer, baseball and recitals re-enter the schedule. Tutoring may join the list as students perpare to take assessment exams.
While after-school activities can be a great way to reduce stress, an overloaded schedule can cause distress. Choose activities carefully and make sure there is enough time for homework, dinner and calming bedtime routines that allow adequate sleep.
Test anxiety is one of the main types of stress in school-age children. Help children establish a study schedule so that preparation for any test can be managed in smaller units of time. Consider studying with the child; it is surprising what complex concepts children are learning.
Remember, children take cues from their parents. Model healthy ways to deal with pressure and listen carefully when children say they are overwhlemed.
Brad: Are you causing your child to be stressed? Youth might feel they need to perform to please their parents. Children experience second-hand stress from the stress of adults.
Stress may lead to worry, anxiety and physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach aches. Children may try to escape pressure by quitting or not caring, or they may respond to pressure by rebelling.
Eliminate unnecessary stresses. Avoid pressuring children too much to achieve and be perfect. Prevent your child from experiencing second-hand stress by taking care of your own emotional needs. Model how to handle stress in constructive ways.
Focus on preventing the stress we can control. Prioritize to build a daily routine that includes a healthy balance of exercise, healthy eating, sleep, learning, entertainment and socialization.
Guide your child to develop skills for responding to stress. Through conversations, help your child identify the stress. Ask, “What can be changed?” and “What can’t be changed?” Brainstorm solutions to the problems that can be addressed. Work through stresses that can’t be changed.
Rebekah: One of the most important things we can teach our kids is how to cope with life’s stressors, since we’re all faced with ups and downs. As a therapist, I work with children every day on developing healthy coping skills. But, learning to handle stress starts at home.
Parents should begin by role-modeling appropriate coping strategies. It’s important to show by example how to handle pressure. Remember, kids are like sponges and absorb from their environment, so make sure what your child sees from you is healthy and appropriate.
Help your child practice healthy coping skills with you as a support system at home. Go for walks together, encourage your child to write in a journal or draw, create a quote jar to provide daily positive affirmations for your family, talk to each other when things don’t go as planned, use positive self-talk, count to 10 out loud or listen to music together. At our house, we eat coping cookies and write three things we’re thankful for each day in a notebook. Having a notebook of positives reminds us what is going right in our lives.
Throughout life, we all need a plan for dealing with day-to-day tensions. It is essential to make sure your child has coping strategies in place early in life to ensure a resilient adulthood.
Suzanne Stevenson is the family life education program manager at the Parenting Center in Fort Worth.
Brad Schwall, Ph.D., created the Cool Kids curriculum, which helps children develop social and emotional skills.
Rebekah Christner is a licensed professional counselor with both Lewisville ISD and the Counseling Center of Denton. She is a mother of two.