5 Way to Reduce Stress In Children
In my practice I often see children who are stressed out. Many of them are experiencing regular anxiety. These children are overtired, overworked, and over-anxious. Stress affects every aspect of their being, both emotionally and physically. Such stress can interfere with their every day relationships, self-esteem, and dramatically impact their physical health.
We know that demands on children today are tough. They have hectic schedules and academic demands. As well-meaning parents we want to expose them to everything, give them every opportunity for growth, and help them be the best that they can be. But the reality is that our children's mental health is more important than grades, sports or any extra curricular activities.
What Can We Do?
Since stress can impact a child well into adulthood, it is important that we can teach children at an early age how to successfully reduce their stress levels. Here are some tips that families can implement to reduce stress, not only for their children, but for the whole family.
- Take a real look at the schedule. It’s ok to say “no” to activities. Your child does not need to participate in everything. Sometimes children love the idea of participating in every activity and playdate, but it is up to the parent to set realistic limits. The age of the child is key in setting these limits, as young children need a good amount of good old unstructured playtime. There are many benefits to playing team sports, however it should not be over-scheduled. Pick one sport per season. Ask yourself if your child really needs to be on a competitive team at this age or is a recreational program enough. For other activities, pick what’s most important and let the rest go. Write out your family’s schedule and see what is benefiting your child and what may be causing undue stress.
- Examine bedtime routines. Children need sleep. Without proper sleep they are cranky and unable to deal properly with stress. The National Sleep Foundation recommends pre-school age children receive 10-13 hours, school aged children 9-11 hours and teenagers 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Have a set bedtime and a routine before bed, one that does not include electronics. Before bedtime, wind down with a family story or let children read on their own. A family story is a great way to spend time together. There are many wonderful read-alouds that can be found at your local library.
- Look in your fridge and pantry. In order for the body to fight stress and feel well, you need to feed it well. Look at how much processed food your children are eating. Are they ingesting food dyes and large amounts of sugar? Most people think of candy when we speak of sugar but many simple carbs such as white bread and pasta burn up quickly and turn right to sugar in the body. When children are ingesting these foods they get a quick burst of sugar and then they crash. Their body can’t handle daily demands when they are on this blood sugar roller coaster. Try adding some seeds such as pumpkin or sunflower into your children’s diet. Seeds are fun for kids to eat and are filled with magnesium, which helps serotonin levels in the brain.
- Track electronic time. We live in a world filled with electronics and, yes, children need to be tech savvy. However we need to make sure their world is not filled up entirely with electronics. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more then 1-2 hours of total screen time daily. When a child has too much screen time they are losing real life connections with family and friends.
- Utilize breathing exercises. I teach every single client how to breathe properly. Breathing calms down the nervous system and is one of the best tools to handle a moment of stress, anxiety, or anger. A great way to teach a child how to breathe is to have them imagine a balloon in their belly. When they inhale they are filling up the balloon and when they exhale they are deflating it. Practice this every night. It’s a great activity for the whole family.
You can start by implementing just one change. Stick with it and in time it will become commonplace. Change doesn't happen overnight, but with practice and consistency the benefits will start to be seen. For some children, their stress may have turned to chronic anxiety and speaking with a professional may be needed. Please visit the link below if you feel more help is needed.
Here’s to happy and healthy children!
Keri Cooper LCSW NBCCH is a holistic psychotherapist who specializes with children and adolescents.
Her private practice, Mind and Body by Nature is located in Ramsey, NJ.