Help Children Handle Stressful Situations
By Amy Park
By developing tools to manage their emotions when under pressure, your kids will have a lifelong advantage when it comes to handling difficult situations calmly. Here are 10 tips that will help kids channel anxieties into productive energy.
1. Name the emotions
Children who are experiencing strong emotions might not know how to name what they are feeling. Encourage your kids to describe mixed-up, sad, angry or confusing feelings. This will gradually ease the frustration that comes with not being able share how an activity, conversation or mood is affecting them, and what they actually think about it and why. When you identify a strong emotion, break it down for your kids to help them broaden their vocabulary and identify subtle nuances between similar concepts (e.g., scared versus sad, tired versus angry).
2. Eat meals together
Perhaps the most classic and still one of the best places to chat is around the family dinner table. Consider house rules and regular schedules such as switching the television off during meals; banning electronics at the table; having a family dinner every Sunday night, perhaps with extended family joining in; setting up a regular weekday picnic night; or having Saturday-morning pancake breakfasts.
If you run out of things to say, pick a topic and encourage family members to ask questions of each other and share information. Kids can even pick the topics and do some research ahead of time. Dinnertime should be a time-out that’s similar to a group huddle—each member of the team goes about his/her business on the field, then the team reconvenes to receive support and feedback on next steps or challenging situations.
3. Support downtime
In today’s world, we can pressure our kids to achieve great things and often overschedule after-school hours. Remember: A balanced life is different for kids than it is for adults, and a lot of children feel drained or confined after a long and busy day.
Children and young adults usually need time out in order to process the day’s events and let their minds and imaginations wander. Being outside, playing a board game or watching silly videos online are great ways for kids to recharge.
4. Stick to routines
Try to stick to a routine in the mornings and around breakfast preparations, as well as maintaining bath and bedtime rituals. Giving your kids the same set schedule and a familiar way of doing things will provide a stable foundation, even if the rest of their world is chaotic.
Having a good night’s sleep is important for people of all ages, and sleep disturbances can affect a child’s mood and ability to learn. In addition, daytime challenges can be easier to cope with if a child knows what to expect at the end of the day.
5. Encourage volunteering
Gaining a new perspective often changes how we feel about our own situation. Volunteering doesn’t need to involve long-term commitments, and can build confidence if the tasks are chosen for success. Make these events family activities to give your child comfort in exploring something new without having to do it all alone.
6. Be patient
When children are trying to communicate their feelings, be patient and don’t jump in to put words in their mouth. Children need to learn how to process their emotions and experiences. The value in being able to complete a train of thought and express themselves is worth the wait. When this happens, children feel in control and more capable of understanding and navigating their stress.
7. Encourage activity and healthy eating
Children who move around and fuel themselves with healthy foods have an advantage. These are not only good habits to develop for their own sake, but will also give kids more energy to deal with stress and purge strong emotions. Make sure your kids have the time to play sports or just run around with friends, and give them an energy boost with nutritionally balanced snacks.
8. Help children to move on
Sometimes, we allow stress to become too sticky. It can be tempting for kids to get stuck rehashing the same story or to stay angry at someone. Finding a productive solution, even if it requires compromise, is key.
First off, however, you should show empathy and acknowledge that you recognize your child’s feelings. Tell him/ her that you know it can be difficult to move on and to stop being worried or scared. By helping your child to come up with practical solutions and a viable long-term plan, you are helping him/her to take action.
9. Connect kids with a mentor
A mentor can be an older sibling or a trusted person who is close to the family, or friends of your child who are more mature or have been through similar circumstances. Local activity groups or clubs can be a great resource, especially for only children.
Relationships forged outside of school and family can offer a safe space where your children can share concerns about things they might not feel comfortable talking about with their parents.
10. Just be there
When all else fails and you feel there is nothing else that can be done right now, the best thing might just be to be there. Children do not always know exactly why they are feeling anxious or might not want to talk about a situation—but that doesn’t mean they want to be left alone. Put on some calming music, lie on the bed together or just spend time with each other doing things around the house. Remember to give your child a hug and let him or her know you care.
Amy Park is an editorial intern with the Canadian Abilities Foundation. Her summer internship was funded by a grant from TD Bank. Amy is a liberal studies and English major in her third year at Vancouver Island University.