Although we, as adults, might think we are the only ones subject to stress, kids can be affected by stress, too. Whether it’s the stress of an unprecedented pandemic, picking up on the stress of adults around them, stress from school, friends, homework, changes in routing, family disruptions…the list goes on and on of what can cause stress in children.
There are some ways that you can help your child deal with, relieve, and alleviate stress at home. Through some simple activities, you can assist your child in relieving stress at home before it becomes a bigger health problem.
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Sources of Stress in Children
As discussed above, many things can cause stress in kids, depending upon the child’s age and environment. Demands placed upon a child from outside sources is a big factor (this includes school, family, and friends).
Stress can, however, originate from within a child, who places demands on themselves and what they think they “should” be doing. This can cause kids to feel overwhelmed.
Parents should avoid talking about their “grown-up” problems in front of kids, as this can cause stress in little ones with big ears. Likewise, younger children should be kept away from the news, especially when disturbing headlines such as millions dying from coronavirus dominate the coverage.
Complicating factors that can cause added stress in kids include illness, death of a loved one, and, of course, divorce. Many children will need professional counseling to deal with the stress caused by major life changes such as these.
Signs of Stress in Children
Stress in children might not be immediately recognized, even by parents. In some kids, stress manifests through physical reactions, such as crying, headache, or other bodily aches or pains.
In others, they might show an emotional or behavioral reaction to stress, like shyness or constant worrying. Depending upon your child’s age and developmental stage, their reaction to stress can vary.
Bedwetting can be a sign of stress in kids, especially if it’s a behavior they have not engaged in in a long time. Taking up new habits, like nail biting, hair chewing, or thumb sucking, can also indicate that stress is affecting your child. They might suddenly develop nightmares, start doing poorly in school, or become clingier with you at home.
Ideas and Activities to Help Kids Release Stress at Home
Luckily, there are many things that you can do to help your child deal with stress. We will discuss some of them here.
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Exercise and Body Manipulation
There are many different types of exercise that kids (and adults) can do to relieve stress.
- Enroll your child in an organized sport, so they get the feeling of being part of a team.
- Encourage your child to play outside with friends.
- Have your child practice inversion, or standing on their head. This can have a restorative effect on the autonomic nervous system and provide a “reset” on the way the body is dealing with stress.
- Have your child do the Downward Facing Dog yoga pose. This works muscles in your child’s core and causes blood to rush to the head. It also helps burn any additional glucose in the body that might have resulted from your child’s fight or flight response.
- Jumping rope for two minutes to music can help your child fight stress.
- High jumping is also a great stress reliever for kids who cannot yet master jumping rope.
- Running also reduces stress. Jogging with your child for even 10 minutes can change your child’s mood for the better.
- Walking in nature is also a great stress-reducer.
- Bicycling is a great stress reliever.
- Teach your child to breathe like they are filing a balloon in their belly. Have them repeat this five times.
- Have your child blow on a pinwheel.
- Light a candle and have your child blow it out. This is a great way to practice deep breathing too.
- Run a warm bath for your child. Let them relax in the tub and play with toys for as long as they choose.
- A cold shower can also help boost mood, reduce muscle inflammation and improve blood flow in children.
Creating positive thoughts can come through visualization, and this can be a way to block out upsetting, stressful thoughts in children.
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- Have your child close their eyes and visualize a quiet, peaceful, calm place. Guide them through the imagery and have them tell you what it looks like, smells like and feels like.
- Decorate a wall of your child’s room or playroom with magazines or uplifting pictures from the internet.
- Create a vision board with your child, including words and pictures that represent their dreams, desires and interests.
- Have your child visualize their best self. Write down what they’d like to work towards becoming in a week, month or year.
Using your child’s five senses can help them to calm themselves when experiencing stress.
- Play dough is a great way to use your child’s sense of touch. When your child is feeling stressed, give them play dough to squeeze, pound and manipulate.
- Using a stress ball, squeezing putty, and playing with sand are also sensory activities that are stress-reducers.
- Blowing bubbles is quite relaxing and visually pleasing to kids. Popping them is fun too!
- Watch fish in a fish tank. This visual activity is quite relaxing.
- Create a glitter jar and have your child shake it every time stress gets to them. Watching this jar for five minutes helps to calm kids down.
- Rock in a rocking chair. This produces a calming motion and feeling in your child.
- Give your child a bear hug, with their permission. Hugging can release the hormone oxytocin and increase feelings of well-being.
- Popping bubble wrap is fun for kids and also a stress reliever.
- Allow your child to do a primal yell. Stand with their feet shoulder width apart, imagining their emotions traveling from their feet, up through their body to their mouth. Tell them to yell anything that makes them feel good.
- Kneading bread is also a calming activity. Have your child help you make bread and knead the dough.
- Have your child write a letter to themselves using the voice of their best friend. Their best friend wouldn’t criticize them, so it helps them to be kind to themselves when they think about what their best friend would do or say in a certain situation.
- Ask your child to write down their feelings, and tell them you don’t have to read it if they don’t want you to.
- Ask your child to write out what they are thankful for. Encourage them to create a big list if they can.
- Visual arts can help your child to relieve stress. Painting, finger painting, and painting with shaving cream are all creative outlets for your child.
- Pottery is a great way for kids to relieve stress.
- While not exactly a hobby, coloring does relieve stress and increases a child’s focus and mindfulness.
- Singing can be a way to relieve stress. It releases endorphins, which cause us to feel good.
- Playing music can set the tone. Keep music going in your home as much as possible.
- Have a dance party, combining music and activity/exercise.
Eating nutritious foods and snacks throughout the day and staying hydrated is vital to fighting stress in kids.
- Encourage your child to drink water throughout the day. Show them how drinking a glass of cold water slowly calms them down.
- Keep your child away from sugar as much as possible, as it provides a quick energy boost but leaves your child feeling even more tired afterwards.
- Same with caffeine – keep your child away from caffeinated beverages as much as you can.
- Encourage your child to drink herbal (caffeine-free) tea or another warm drink they like such as warm milk or hot chocolate. Drinking something warm is like being hugged from the inside and helps to relieve stress in kids.
- Make sure your child is getting enough sleep each night to face the challenges of the next day.
- Have your child count backwards from 100. This often helps your child forget what was stressing them out so much in the first place.
- If your child can’t count backwards from 100 yet, have them count to five. This can help reset the brain.
- Have your child repeat a mantra like “I am relaxed” or “I am calm” over and over again.
- Talk about what is bothering your child with them. Try not to fix the problem for them when you talk to them, however. Just listen and ask questions, but don’t offer unsolicited advice.
- Have your child choose a “calm down space” in the house, where they can go by themselves when they feel out of control. When they feel calm, they can rejoin everyone in the house again.
Ask your child to name the emotion they are feeling and talk about it.