If you’re like me and have children still living under your roof and attending school, then I can imagine you’re also experiencing all the stress that comes with the end of the school year: final projects, final exams, end-of-year recitals, celebrations and, possibly even a graduation or two…
Phew! I’m exhausted just thinking about it!
To make matters worse, if your kids are anything like mine, they’ve procrastinated and now have to cram months of work into two weeks. Oh yeah, that’s on top of any extra-curricular activities they’re involved in!
As business manager, activities director, psychologist and leader in all things relating to health and wellness for our household, I’ve had to dry a few tears (not just my own), talk through some anxious feelings (“you’ll get through this”), help my kids make better food choices (fact: more social activities means more soda, candy and junk food) rearrange schedules (and not because of my basically non-existent social life) and stress the importance of getting a good night’s rest.
With so much to do in such a short amount of time it’s no wonder we’re all stressed out!
You may recall the post I wrote about anxiety back in November 2014, titled “Living with Anxiety”. In that post I shared how I cope with the levels of anxiety that surfaced after my husband, Larry, passed away. While the purpose of that post was to help adults cope with anxiety in their lives, I briefly mentioned how it affects children, as well.
It’s a topic that’s gaining more recognition every day, and from what I see in my home and what I hear from other parents with adolescent children there’s no doubt about it: our children are stressed out.
I know… You’re probably thinking we all have to face stress in our lives.
But while that’s true, as a parent I want to know what I can do to help my kids cope with every day stress before it turns into an anxiety disorder.
Having lived with anxiety myself, I know the lingering effects it can have on my overall mental and physical health. As a parent I’m always looking for tools and information to guide me in helping my children cope with daily stressors.
Let’s face it: my children have already faced one of life’s biggest challenges when their father died. I’m fully aware that this life-changing event places them at a higher risk for developing an anxiety disorder.
In addition, some children with special needs are also at a higher risk of developing anxiety disorders, so my son, Charlie, has to face an increased risk of developing an anxiety disorder not just once, but twice. Poor guy was dealt a double whammy at the tender age of seven.
While I know I can’t protect my children 100% from any health issues, I can do the next best thing and give them tools so they can help themselves.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 8% of teens ages 13-18 have an anxiety disorder (daily stress is not measured, but I can imagine it’s high). More disturbing is that symptoms commonly emerge around age 6 and, sadly, only 18% of the teens living with anxiety seek treatment.
These are some scary statistics. That’s why this post is dedicated to empowering parents to help their children cope with every-day stress in order to help prevent it from turning into an anxiety disorder.
For me, the first step is identifying possible sources of stress.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry list the following as possible sources of stress:
* School demands and frustrations.
* Negative thoughts and feelings about themselves. (Very common amongst teenagers.)
* Changes in their bodies (hello puberty!)
* Problems with friends and/or peers at school.
* Unsafe living environment/neighborhood.
* Separation or divorce of parents.
* Chronic illness or severe problems in the family.
* Death of a loved one.
* Moving or changing schools.
* Taking on too many activities or having too high expectations.
* Family financial problems.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I can certainly identify with half of the sources listed as possible stressors not only for my kids, but also for myself! Yikes!
Personally, I don’t recall having a lot of stress in my childhood.
So… Why are our children more stressed than we were at their age?
Some studies suggest increased expectations from school, increased use of electronics and decreased physical activity can play a role in our children having more stress than kids from previous generations.
Once I’m armed with the knowledge of possible stressors I feel more capable in moving on to the next step: helping my boys to identify possible symptoms of stress. Helping your child isolate symptoms can help them understand their origin, that is, whether they’re from an illness or from stress. This is a wonderful tool that can be carried into adulthood.
What are the symptoms of a stressed child?
The American Psychological Association recommends parents be aware of the following symptoms that may indicate your child is stressed:
* Changes in behavior, such as being more irritable or moody.
* Withdrawal from activities that used to give them pleasure.
* Routinely expressing worry.
* Complaining more than usual about school.
* Crying more than usual.
* Sleeping too much or too little.
* Abandoning friendships and/or isolating completely from parents.
* Physical ailments not related to an illness, such as chronic headaches or stomach-aches.
* Unexplained rashes.
After Larry died, my son, George, complained almost every morning of a stomachache or headache. I told him that I believed his stomach or head hurt (mine did, too) but it was because of his grief and not a virus. He still had to attend school. His physical ailments lessened in time and with the benefit of grief therapy.
Now George and I know that when he’s facing stress his common symptoms are headaches and stomach-aches. So when he feels these physical ailments and he isn’t sick, we know stress is probably a factor and this knowledge allows us to explore what may be causing it and practice some stress reducing techniques.
My other children have their own set of recurring symptoms: when we recognize them we can pause and reflect on what the underlying issue may be and again, take action to eliminate the stress or find techniques to cope.
What can a parent do to help their child decrease stress?
* Feed them a well-balanced nutrient rich diet.
* Help your teen avoid excess caffeine intake, which can increase feelings of anxiety and agitation.
* Talk to your son or daughter about the impact alcohol, drugs and tobacco can have with regards to increasing levels of stress.
* The CDC states that sleep is essential for reducing stress and recommends teens get a minimum of nine hours.
* Ensure they exercise on a regular basis.
* Create chunks of designated “tech-free” time.
* Practice relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises and meditation.
* Help your child create some affirmations that he or she may refer to each morning. For example, “I am smart,” “I am a kind person,” etc. (Below is a link to a prior post, “Affirming my Life!” which details how to create an affirmation.)
* Encourage your children to take a “break” from what may be causing stress. If it’s schoolwork, urge them to close the books or turn off the computer and step away for a little while. If it’s relationship issues, persuade your child to stop texting or engaging in social media for a while.
* If necessary, encourage your child to talk with a qualified adult, for example, a counselor at school, church, social worker, or professional therapist.
As a parent, I want my child to talk to me, but I understand there may be times he may not want to. Therefore, I feel it’s more important that he knows there are other avenues available as opposed to shutting down and bottling up the stress.
In addition to helping my children cope with stress as the school year wraps up over the next few weeks, I also need to maintain my practice of wellness techniques, which I’ve referred to in prior posts. I hope you do, too.
I pray daily to have the guidance and tools to give to my children so they can be healthy in mind and body. And I pray ALL our kids can truly grasp that peace and happiness comes from within.
Here’s to all of us finding happiness in our lives!