Experiencing stress is a basic part of life. Stress comes from our environment, other people, and from within. Young people experience a variety of stressors from a variety of sources. They can also experience and show that they are stressed in different ways. In order to avoid some of the negative effects of stress, here are some ways to provide guidance and support.
1. Label feelings. Children and teens experience stress differently than adults. Younger children who have not developed the vocabulary to describe how they feel may experience stress physically and display their stress through avoidance or behavioral issues. Teens may do the same, along with experiencing anxiety, depression, or engaging risky behaviors. One place to start is to assist in labeling their experience as “stressed”, “nervous”, “scared”, “and worried”, etc. This begins to build self awareness and reduces confusion. Even with adults, having an accurate label for how we feel often helps. It also shows that we have noticed how the child or teen is feeling; feeling understood by our caregivers when we are young helps us to be able to understand ourselves as we grow. Early on, it is up to us to help children to understand how they feel.
2. Healthy comfort. Providing comfort may happen through giving attention to how they’re feeling as well as physical comfort. It is important to comfort using understanding and support. However, relying on providing food (such as junk food), material items, or allowing the child or teen to have their way in spite of the rules is not helpful in the long term. The ways we find comfort when we are small we often continue with as adults. The most helpful way is simply to be there, not to encourage reliance on external items to feel better. We should also encourage teens to begin to learn how to take care of themselves when they are feeling stressed, such as paying extra attention to sleep, healthy eating, and connecting with family and friends. We can avoid some of the negative physical consequences of stress if we take care of our bodies properly during those times. Additionally, being compassionate with ourselves by creating meaningful and relaxing activities is a way of taking care of ourselves in the midst of stress.
3. Create healthy outlets. Adults who are successful at managing stress seem to do so by developing healthy perspectives as well as healthy routines. The best way to return to balance is through exercise, mental relaxation, and connecting with others. Isolating ourselves and spending time alone can be helpful at times, but may not be if a child or teen is doing this in response to stress without other methods for coping. One of the most effective ways to deal with ongoing stress is through physical activity that happens on a regular basis. Walking through the mall or playing basketball with friends once a week may not be sufficient. Creating the opportunities for outside activities will have multiple benefits along with reducing stress. During serious times of stress, allowing children to sleep in late may not be the best idea. Avoiding life never helps, but confronting our situation and how we feel creates energy to enjoy life despite the troubles it can sometimes bring. We can help children to face their feelings and remain healthy, especially during periods of stress.
** If your child is struggling with stress management, contact Aspen Counseling Services to schedule an Initial Assessment.