BEYOND THE TEXTBOOK
Stress in children is becoming problematic. According to a national poll, stress is a top health concern for children, ranking higher than bullying and teen pregnancy. Overwhelming stress is a problem for adults, but it can be detrimental for children, who lack the experience and skills to manage it.

When not handled appropriately, stress can cause poor concentration, physical illness, and depression. Therefore, it’s vital that parents teach their children how to cope with it. Here are several strategies to help your children navigate the pressures of life.

Make time for fun

Make sure your child has time for a good night’s rest and physical activity. It is especially important that children have activities solely committed to pleasure. Playing with friends, with a pet, and even video games, brings kids joy, which reduces stress. Therefore, mix fun activities with school and homework and create a balance in your child’s life that is essential for peaceful living.

Stress triggers

Identify the things that stress your child. Major family events, such as divorce and death, often cause stress in children. But daily demands, such as a change in plans and school work, can pressure kids, too.

Being able to determine your child’s stress triggers allows you to stop or lessen the stress your child experiences before it occurs. For example, if you know that your child becomes overly worried about tests, help prepare for those tests ahead of time. Or if you foresee a family separation, set up some time for your child to speak with a counselor during the process.

Teach your child to recognize stress

It is extremely beneficial for children to be able to identify their stressful feelings. Recognizing that they are stressed gives them some control at the onset instead of waiting until it gets too overwhelming to handle. Discuss what happens when they feel stressed – heart rate increases, breathing shallow and at a higher speed, muscles becoming tense, and feelings that overwhelm them. Once your children are able to recognize the symptoms of stress, teach them ways to cope.

Stress-reducing tools

Due to the demands of daily life, stress is normal. Coping strategies can make stress not feel like distress. Help them develop the skills they need to deal with stress effectively now and in their adult life. There are many ways to lessen the amount of stress in their lives. The one your child uses most will depend on his or her personality and interests.

Breathing

Breathing exercises are a great way to reduce stress. Teach your child to take deep breaths when he recognizes his own shallow breathing. Inhaling for five slow seconds and then exhaling for another five will force your child to slow down his quick breathing and become calmer.

Journaling and drawing

Encourage your child to write thoughts in a journal. Sometimes putting problems on paper decreases the weight on one’s mind. If your child can’t write, have her draw the stressful situation. Articulating the feelings in picture form can produce the same result as journaling.

Sharing

Finally, make sure your child knows at least one trusted adult, whom he can share his stresses with. Talking out issues releases some of the pain, guilt and worry that a taxing situation can bring about, and speaking to someone who will listen without judgment and offer sound advice can help your child better deal with stress. (Please understand that you may not be that person because your child may be afraid of what you might think.)

Like adults, physical or emotional pressures can disturb the normal flow of a child’s life. Providing children with stress management strategies is essential, not only to help your children cope with stress now, but to carry those strategies into adulthood.

China Hill is a teacher at KIPP Ascend Charter School on the West Side.