School, homework, tests. Add to these the after-school activities and occasional cases of bullying and peer pressure. Not to mention the overexposure to media and the internet, and its aftereffect. With all of this to deal with, it comes as no surprise that kids these days are likely to be as stressed as adults.
Author Lori Lite, in her book Stress Free Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Helping Build Self-Esteem, Manage Stress, and Reduce Anxiety in Children, talks about the stress levels in kids, and how parents could help them cope with it. “The range of stress that children experience can be as simple as arriving at school to find a substitute teacher for the day, or as complex as being exposed to a violent image online,” she says.
So what are the red flags parents should be looking out for, to gauge if their kids are stressed? According to Dr L Kevin Chapman, a licensed clinical psychologist, the most common sign is a noticeable change in your child’s behavior that significantly differs from how he or she previously behaved. He lists out a few markers, which may vary with the age of the child. Does your kid exhibit any of these lately?
- Wanting to spend more time alone.
- Decrease in appetite.
- Avoiding situations involving other people.
- Sleeping excessively.
- Increase in negative statements.
- Becoming increasingly defiant.
- An increase in anxiety.
- Making statements about death.
How You Could Help
As a parent, the biggest way to help is by talking to your child. Sit them down and find out what is bothering them; they’re likely to tell you. Moreover, kids tend to model their behavior on that of their parents. Which means that if you can’t handle your stress, your kid will never learn to handle theirs, either. Apart from this, it is a smart idea to teach your kids how to practice relaxation techniques. Also, make sure they’re getting enough sleep; kids who get enough sleep are likely to be less irritable and are able to handle stress better.
Take an interest in your child’s activities. Too many after-school activities could be what’s stressing your child out. Talk to them and figure out what can be eliminated, and use dinner time to de-stress and bond as a family. According to Dr. Chapman, helping your children identify three components can be extremely helpful: What are you thinking right now? How are you feeling right now? What are you doing right now? This will go a long way in helping you reach out to stressed kids.
Finding a solution comes naturally once you’ve identified the problem. For example, if your child thinks no one cares about him or her, make them feel less neglected and indulge in activities that they are more likely to enjoy.
Cindy Giedraitis, mother to a nine-year-old, tells us that positive reinforcement is very important. She says, “My daughter was doing badly in school. But I realized that talking negatively about homework or teachers in front of her was only creating more fear in her. It was only after I took her to a counselor that I realized, when the child is stressed, the parent needs to be the calming force.”