Tag Archives: stress

How to Help Kids Manage Stress (Part 2)

junge in der grundschule hält sich den kopf

This is the second post in a two-part series on helping children manage stress.

Stress is a normal part of life for both adults and kids—it’s how we respond to and manage it that’s key. In part one of this series, we learned how to identify stress in children, as well as tips for talking about it with them. Below are several additional strategies for helping children successfully lower and manage stress.

Spend special one-on-one time with your child. Find calm hobbies or other activities that you can enjoy together. This will allow time for both fun and conversation, and may help you discover the trigger for your child’s stress.

Teach relaxation skills. Show your child how to relax by practicing deep breathing or meditation, or remembering and imagining pleasant situations, such as a favorite vacation or happy experience. Using iPad, iPhone, or Android apps to teach relaxation skills can be particularly helpful for digitally connected kids because it engages them visually through a familiar and comfortable medium.

Make time for play. Play is important for children of all ages, but especially for younger kids. Children need uninterrupted playtime with their peers to help develop crucial social skills, such as negotiating and resolving conflicts. Play combined with rigorous physical activity can also promote a sense of well-being. Outdoor activities might include bike riding, throwing a baseball, wrestling, or hiking. When the weather is bad, move the play indoors.

Help kids get enough sleep. Sleep is vital for everything from minimizing stress to boosting mood to improving school performance. If children aren’t getting enough sleep, it could be a sign that they are overscheduled. Reducing commitments may help. In addition, emphasize the importance of sleep and create an environment that encourages it. For instance, keep TV—and other electronics—out of your child’s bedroom and reduce exposure to electronics or screens well before bedtime.

Teach your children that making mistakes is OK. Mistakes help us learn, and it’s important to communicate the message that children do not have to do everything right, particularly the first time around. Let them know that all people, including you, make mistakes. Teach them to tolerate the disappointment and discomfort that come with making mistakes, and help them identify ways to overcome challenging situations and work through their mistakes.

Establish fair, yet firm, limits. Behaving inappropriately can be a sign of stress for some kids, and it is important to be clear about rules and consequences. Let your child know specifically what is expected for different tasks, as well as for his or her behavior. Decide together on consequences for misbehavior, and—most importantly—follow through with those consequences.

Teach ways of handling difficult situations. Talk through and role-play with your child different ways to handle stressful situations, such as a difficult peer interaction.

Tell stories about dealing with stress. For example, if your child is afraid of a new situation, tell a story about how you once felt in a similar situation and what you did to cope, or find a library book that shows a child coping successfully with stress. Look for age-appropriate YouTube clips—such as cartoons—that demonstrate problem solving and other stress management techniques.

Model appropriate ways to manage stress. We know that stress is contagious. It’s important to communicate to children both through your behavior and words that it’s OK to be stressed, and that there are effective ways to handle stress. Putting your own “oxygen mask” on first will better equip you to help your children manage stress successfully; in other words, make it a priority to take time for self care and find appropriate ways to deal with your own stress.

NYULMC-2011_2CP_RGB_300dpiFrom the Real Experts at NYU Langone Medical Center:

Rebecca Rialon Berry, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center. She has extensive expertise in the evaluation and treatment of primary anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, ADHD, and disruptive behavior disorders in children, adolescents, and young adults. Dr. Berry, who received her PhD in psychology from Columbia University, specializes in the provision of evidence-based treatment, including cognitive-behavior therapy, habit reversal therapy, and behavioral parent training. She completed a clinical psychology internship at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford and a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

How to Help Kids Manage Stress

sad mother and daughter

This is the first post in a two-part series on helping children manage stress.

All kids experience stress and anxiety at times. The triggers for stress—from loud noises, strangers, and fear of ghosts to academic performance, social situations, and the future—evolve with a child’s development. Not every child reacts the same way to common stressors, such as having a new sibling or starting school, and it isn’t always easy to tell when stress is affecting our kids. But recognizing stress in children is an important first step toward helping them cope with life’s ups and downs and giving them the support they need to flourish and succeed.

Stress can emerge in a variety of ways. One of the key elements to look for is a change in your child’s usual behavior or temperament. For example, a quiet and easy-going child who becomes irritable or aggressive may be stressed. In addition, the following signs may help you recognize stress in your child.

Physical: Complaints of headaches or stomachaches, excessive vomiting not related to a medical condition, bed wetting or a regression in toileting behaviors, persistent physical complaints, or a significant loss in energy

Emotional: Anxiety or fear in situations that have not previously provoked such reactions, irritability or a significant increase in rudeness, or sadness

Behavioral: Frequent crying or tearfulness, nervous tics, nail biting, loss of temper, or difficulty falling asleep

Interpersonal: A change in interactions with others, such as withdrawing, teasing or bullying; extreme shyness; or loss of interest in previously enjoyable social activities

Educational: Declining grades, refusal to attend school, or difficulty concentrating in class

One of the most important, yet often challenging ways to help children undergoing stress is to talk about it. If you notice that your child looks worried or stressed, or if you see a change in behavior or any other signs of stress, it may be helpful to ask what’s on his or her mind. Having a discussion early on can bring to light some challenging situations and help your family better understand and address any stressors your child is experiencing. Talking about stress can be difficult and unfamiliar for both parents and kids, so here are a few tips to get you going:

Ask specific questions. Instead of a broad question like “What’s wrong?” or “What’s happening?” ask a more specific question, such as, “How are things going at school with your teacher?” or “Tell me about how you and Suzie are getting along together on the playground.”

Don’t force the conversation. If children resist discussing what’s bothering them, remind them that you are there to listen and will ask about it later. For instance, you might say, “I understand it can be hard to talk about these things, so I’ll try again later.” Bedtime or a car trip may offer a good opportunity for a future heart-to-heart.

Don’t criticize. Reacting negatively to what children say can be unpleasant or even hurtful for them, and they will learn to avoid opening up to you about their feelings in the future.

Whether your child shows stress by misbehaving or keeping it in, you can learn how to help him or her deal with challenging situations. Stay tuned for part two of “How to Help Kids Manage Stress,” which will offer additional tools for helping children cope with stress and anxiety!

NYULMC-2011_2CP_RGB_300dpiFrom the Real Experts at NYU Langone Medical Center:

Rebecca Rialon Berry, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center. She has extensive expertise in the evaluation and treatment of primary anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, ADHD, and disruptive behavior disorders in children, adolescents, and young adults. Dr. Berry, who received her PhD in psychology from Columbia University, specializes in the provision of evidence-based treatment, including cognitive-behavior therapy, habit reversal therapy, and behavioral parent training. She completed a clinical psychology internship at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford and a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

 

 

Family Ties: Tips for a Stress-Reduced Holiday Season

smiling family with camera at homeWhile holidays are typically a time of joy and celebration, they can also be a source of stress and anxiety. Sometimes expectations about what should happen around the holidays collide with the reality of what actually happens, and this can lead to disappointment, anger, and sadness. Fortunately, there are ways to make the holidays more enjoyable!

Be proactive, not reactive. Enter the holidays with a good idea of what to expect and a plan for how to deal with events and issues as they arise. Begin by reflecting on what has happened in the past at family gatherings—this will make it possible to plan ahead. Often, small alterations in both expectations and behavior make a big difference. Talk over your plans with your spouse/partner and other family members, and take time to think through what you would like to happen during the holidays.

There are two general choices of action to consider from one year to the next:

Stick with existing traditions, but alter parts of them where necessary. If you decide to stick with existing traditions, focus on changing your expectations and behavior in relation to old patterns. For example, if a family member has arrived late to a holiday meal for the past three years, expect that he will do so again and carry on with your plans anyway. If he arrives on time, you will be pleasantly surprised. If he arrives late, you will be less upset since you expected as much.

Create new traditions and/or rituals. Creating new traditions can be an enlivening process that respects what’s come before but generates new forms of celebration reflecting present and changing circumstances. Families that feel exhausted and overextended can scale back the traditions they’ve been straining to uphold. For example, a family may feel relieved to deviate from the dinner menu they’ve prepared year after year just because it was a tradition.

The most important thing you can do to reduce stress during the holiday season is to clearly delineate what matters most about the season. Furthermore, everyone does not have to agree on everything, because there are usually sufficient areas of agreement about what’s important. If compromise in essential areas is not possible, the disagreement may be a clue to important issues that require continued attention beyond the holidays. For example, interfaith couples may find holidays particularly stressful for many reasons. These issues—though unearthed by holiday stress—deserve extra (and perhaps professional) attention going forward.

Here are some tips for reducing holiday stress:

  • Be proactive rather than reactive.
  • Maintain reasonable expectations.
  • Be clear about what is really important to you.
  • Be flexible and willing to change. In addition to making your life easier it is a great example to set for your children.
  • Retain your sense of humor!

NYULMC-2011_2CP_RGB_300dpiFrom the Real Experts at NYU Langone Medical Center:

Andrew Roffman, LCSW, has over two decades of experience in helping families, couples, and individuals with emotional and behavioral problems. He is a clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center and also the director of the Child Study Center’s Family Studies Program, a training program in family and couples therapy. Mr. Roffman teaches family therapy and family systems theory to psychology interns, psychiatry residents, and NYU undergraduates.

Mr. Roffman is a Member of the National Association of Social Workers. He has published numerous peer-reviewed articles for professional journals as well as a book chapter in Therapeutic Hypnosis with Children and Adolescents. Mr. Roffman received “Teacher of the Year” award in 2008 and 2011 for his work with trainees at the Child Study Center and is a regular contributing editor to The Journal for Systemic Therapies.