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Helping Your Stressed Child

by Katie Frizzell

There’s no denying that COVID-19 has thrown us all for a loop. Have you considered how our kids are feeling? This year has been hard for them with everything that has happened. From changes in the way they attend school to the cancelling of their favorite activities, they have experienced loss and stress just like us adults. Whether you are the parent of a young child or a teen, it is important that you are aware they can experience stress just like adults can.

They may exhibit the same behavior you do when you are stressed, but children also can show other signs of stress. What you may think is just bad behavior or illness, is really warning signs that your child is too stressed. Keep reading to find out the causes and signs of stress in children and discover ways to help them.

Stress Causesyoung boy with head in hands sitting at top of stairs

  • Increased workload – Children are asked to do more than what they are able to do. Between school, extracurriculars, sports, clubs, jobs, family, and friends, balancing them can become too much.
  • Too high expectations – Whether set by themselves or by others in their life, kids who live everyday with expectations set too high are set up to experience stress.
  • Pressure from authority figures – This pressure from those such as parents, teachers, and coaches to be the best and always succeed can cause a lot of stress in kids.
  • Change in environment – A change, whether sudden or gradual, can cause stress. Some examples of changes that cause stress are changes in school schedules, parents’ divorce, and moving.
  • Traumatic experiences – Going through something traumatic, such as car accident or witnessing something scary, can cause not only stress, but serious levels of stress including post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Falling behind in school – Not being able to keep up or trying to learn at school with an undiagnosed disability will increase stress in a child.
  • Bullying – Experiencing bullying at school, at extracurricular activities, or even in their own “friend” group can cause stress.
  • Abuse – Experiencing abuse of any kind (verbal, emotional, physical, sexual) can cause stress. Also, children who are neglected in whatever way (no food, no supervision, no affection) will experience stress.
  • Undesirable home environment – A home environment that is unstable, unloving, or full of anger and stress caused by others living in the home can directly effect the child living there.

Stress Signs

young girl with one hand holding head a pencil in the other hand working on school work
Children experience stress just like adults.

Physical:

  • Decreased appetite, other changes in eating habits
  • Overeating or undereating
  • Recurring headaches
  • New or recurrent bedwetting
  • Sleep disturbances, not sleeping enough, sleeping too much
  • Upset stomach or chronic stomach pain
  • Body aches and muscle pain
  • Stomach and digestive issues

Behavioral:

  • New or recurring fears
  • Nightmares
  • Regressive behavior
  • Engages in behaviors not appropriate for their age
  • Inability to relax or calm down
  • Trouble with controlling their emotions
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Mood disturbances: depression, anger, irritability

How to Help

How can you help a stressed child in your life? Be there for them and help them try some of these tips to lowering stress levels:

  1. Be realistic – The child may be taking on more than they are able to do. It may be time to take some things off their list. Help them decide they will not add any new activities and will say “No,” when asked to add to the list.
  2. No one is perfect – Help them understand they do not have to be perfect and that it is okay to mess up. Make sure they know it is okay for them to ask you for help.
  3. Meditation – Just 5 to 10 minutes of quiet time can help lower stress levels. Either sit quietly or listen to music while thinking positive thoughts.
  4. Visualize – Having a positive attitude and visualizing positive outcomes can help children reduce stress and calm down in stressful situations. Try visualizing together.
  5. One thing at a time – Multitasking increases stress. Help them know it is okay, and best, for them to do just one thing at a time.
  6. Exercise – Just 20-30 minutes of exercise can lower stress levels. Simple things like going for a walk count! Find an activity that you can do together.
  7. Try a relaxing hobby – Coloring, doing a puzzle, or gardening are all ways to relax when stressed. Be careful not to pick a hobby that increases stress.
  8. Vent – Let your child know that you are there for them when they need to talk. It is important that you do not judge or criticize them while they are confiding in you. Most of the time a child just needs to know that you are there to listen.
  9. Be flexible – It is important for you and for your child to be flexible. Things are less stressful and always turn out more positive if you are willing to compromise and be flexible.
  10. Go easy on criticism – Try not to criticize your child but offer constructive advice when they ask for it. Most importantly, help your child not to criticize themselves. They are just children and should not have as high expectations as adults. When you hear your child speak negatively about themselves, call them out. Also important, you should not use negative self-talk in front of your child.

While there are many ways to help someone who is stressed, one way is to get creative. Try making some of these do-it-yourself projects to not only get the creative juices flowing, but also create something to help with destressing. Try out these projects for squishy bags, destress balls, and foam dough!

De-Stressing Activities

Squishy Bagtwo squishy bags

Materials (makes one bag):

  • 1 quart sized plastic zipper bag
  • 5 oz clear hair gel
  • duct tape
  • ½ - 1 c filler items such as pom poms, foam shapes, beads, pebbles, buttons, tiny toys
  • 1 tsp decorative items such as glitter, confetti, food coloring

Directions:

  1. Fill bag with hair gel, leaving enough room for squishing
  2. Add ½ - 1 Cup of filler items
  3. Add 1 tsp optional decorative items
  4. Close bag and duct tape each side

Destress Balloonfour ballon destress balls

Materials:

  • Funnel
  • 1 balloon (12in rubber or latex)
  • 1 cup cornstarch

Directions:

  1. Blow up the balloon and then deflate it before you start. This stretches the balloon which makes it easier to fill it with the flour.
  2. Pull the end of the balloon up over the end of a funnel. If you don’t have a funnel you can cut off the bottom of a plastic water bottle and use the opening of the bottle as your funnel.
  3. Carefully pour cornstarch into the funnel. Shake the funnel back and forth and tap the side of it to get the cornstarch to go down into the balloon.
  4. If the cornstarch doesn’t seem to go through the funnel, use a pencil or pen to push it through.
  5. Keep adding more and more cornstarch to the funnel and into the balloon until you’re happy with the size.
  6. If the balloon is running out of space to add more cornstarch, pinch the opening of the balloon closed, then use your fingers to press down the cornstarch in the balloon right below the funnel. Press and shape the balloon down and outwards to make space for more flour. (You'd be surprised how much cornstarch you can fit into the balloon just by pressing it down like this!)
  7. Remove the funnel and tie a knot in the balloon. Try to get the knot as close to the base of the balloon as you can.
  8. Your stress ball is done!

Foam Doughsix foam dough balls

Materials:

  • 2 c Cornstarch
  • 1 c Shaving Cream
  • Food Coloring

Directions:

  1. In a large mixing bowl combine 1 cup of shaving cream with 2 cups of cornstarch.
  2. Stir shaving cream and cornstarch to combine.
  3. Use your hands to knead the rest of the cornstarch into the dough.
  4. If the dough feels too sticky, add more cornstarch. If the dough feels like it’s crumbling, add more shaving cream.
  5. Separate the dough into 6 equal amounts.
  6. In a large mixing bowl, use a fork to mix in food dye to each ball of dough.
  7. Once the color is mostly mixed in, add a few pinches of cornstarch and knead the dough until the color is fully combined.
  8. Your dough is ready to be played with!
  9. Store it in an airtight container.
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