Kids experience stress just as adults do. The only difference is that kids may not recognise the emotions or symptoms of stress or know how to manage them. That’s when we see meltdowns or manifestations of undesirable behaviours like lethargy, being snappy and irritable, rebelliousness etc.
What stresses kids out?
Kids get stressed out the same way adults do — when they feel inadequate, unable to cope or overwhelmed. They experience stress when they cannot finish their homework on time, or when they experience disharmony in school or at home. They become stress when there is a conflict at home between parents or family members; or when they feel discouraged by an authority figure (could be a school teacher, tutor or sports coach).
We also see many kids experience seasonal stress or anxiety such as during exam period or before an important performance. Kids are easily stressed when they are frustrated, sad or even upset. And when they do not know how to express their feelings or are unable to relieve the stressor, they either implode (go quiet) or explode (throw tantrums).
Hormonal changes in their bodies also cause unexplainable stress. This accounts for why tweens or teens sometimes have no idea why they blew up over a small matter or what caused the sudden influx of emotions that resulted in tears.
A friend who used to work at IMH as a psychologist shares that they are seeing more stress-related cases with kids. A recent report in the Straits Times (March 14 2017) confirms that more children and teens are stressed out. The suicide of an 11-year old pupil over the stress of his academic results last year shocked the nation and rocked the parenting world.
How can parents help?
One of the best things that I did as a parent was to figure out what was the stress-trigger for my children and helping them understand it and how to manage their own stress with the following practices.
1) Help your child recognise their stress symptoms or emotions and verbalise it. For example, “I am so frustrated with…” Or “I am angry that…” Or ” I am sad because…”
2) Teach them to breathe (take deep breaths in through the nose, breathe out through the the mouth). Focusing on their breathing distracts them from the stressor and helps them to relax. Some schools are now open to empower their students with mindful breathing!
3) If your kids are up to it, go further and teach them to visualise a positive outcome.
4) Drink some water. A few sips will help. Again, the very act of drinking water helps distract your child from the stressor. It also gives your child a “time pause” — a few minutes to calm down before considering what’s stressing him/her and possible solutions.
5) Hug your kid. Sometimes a good hug from Mom or Dad is all that’s required to calm the child.
6) Ask good questions. Start off by acknowledging your child’s feelings. Then ask questions beginning with “what” or “how”. Example: what is bothering you? Want to tell me what happened? How can I help you feel better?
7) Most important, LISTEN. Parents make the mistake of filling in the silent gaps by talking about the problem and giving advice. It takes practice but if you catch yourself talking too much, bite your tongue and let your child talk. (Not preaching. Been there, done it, learn it. It works. Number One complain from my students is that parents DON”T listen. When your child feels you are listening; that they are being heard, they will calm down and you can have a conversation.)
8) Encourage positive self-talk. Work with your child to come up with simple motivation phrases that works for him or her. I also find that it was helpful to have a storage bank of their positive traits or achievements to share with them when they are feeling down. Your storage bank could be photos, certificates or stories that testify to your child’s abilities and success. I find that these help empower my kids and make them feel good again.
9) Tell child you love him/her. “I love you son. Have a great day in school.” or “You will be great today.” Say it out loud. Write it out down in note form. Text it to your child’s phone. Your kid needs to hear you to know of your love unconditionally. Always emphasize that you are there for him or her.
10) Talk about Failure. I find this last point really crucial. Our kids need to know that we have failed before, but we manage to pull ourselves together and soldier on. In my years of training and conversations with students, many kids feel that they cannot talk about failure with their parents. They feel that failure is not an option that parents can accept. When they feel or fear they have NOT met the PARENT’S standards, they feel they have failed their parents. And this brings on tremendous stress.
What is tragic to me is that oftentimes, there is a miscommunication between the kids’ understanding of the parents’ standards and the parents intentions to want success for the kids. I know this because I had a conversation with my son when he was 11 years old that dawned on me that I needed to explain myself and the standards I hold for him. That’s a whole post waiting to be written.
Word of advice: Don’t wait till your child is stress to have a conversation about stress. Start a conversation with your child when both of you are both in a relaxed state.
Here are some great tips from our Health Promotion Board (HPB) on how children can manage stress when facing different stressful situations. You can print them out and stick them on the wall. As with all life habits, it takes time to learn how to manage stress.
A) How to tackle exam stress
- Start revision early
- Stick to a revision timetable
- Set realistic targets
- Seek help when in doubt
- Be prepared
B) How to Manage Anger
- Do not use hurtful words. Walk away from taunting
- Take a few deep breaths
- Think through the problem and resolve it calmly
- Stay Cool.
C) How to stay positive
- Believe that you can face any challenge
- See the positive side of any situation
- Mistakes are not failures. Learn from them.
- Be Strong
D) How to de-stress, relax and be happy
- Talk to your family, teacher or friend
- Exercise or play a sport with your friends
- Watch a movie or read your favourite book
- Tell jokes and have a good laugh with your friends.
If you know any friends or kids of your friends who are experiencing depression or suffering from stress, advice them to call Healthline: 1800 223 1313 or visit the following websites: www.hpb.gov.sg or http://audiblehearts.sg
If you find this post helpful, please share your thoughts or experiences with me. I will love to hear from you. And please connect with US on these social platforms for more news, tips and giveaways: Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
Till our next post, love yourself, love one another.