Helping Our Kids Deal with Stress

Helping Our Kids Deal with Stress January 17, 2014

One of my children seems particularly affected by stress. This child tends to be pretty easy-going and slow-moving, so it often comes as a surprise when I hear the words “I’m so stressed out, there’s just too much pressure!” come out of this child’s mouth. Often, I cannot understand what is so stressful about the situation; in my eyes, everything is under control and we are just plugging right along. When I ask what is stressful, this child answers, “What if the teachers change their mind and decide to have a test? What if I forget all of my spelling words? What if…” Basically, many different possible scenarios are going through this child’s head, and the uncertainty is overwhelming.

I have a few thoughts about why this is happening. First, there has been a big leap in terms of academic responsibilities and difficulty this year, so I suspect that the heightened expectations are somewhat stressful. Second, this child is at a developmental stage characterized by much emotional, physical, and spiritual growth, so facing the unknown both within and without is probably a bit scary. Third, this child’s temperament (melancholic, I believe) probably also plays a role.

In order to help my child cope with the stress, here is what I have done thus far:

1) I have offered to pray with this child, and I have suggested that they ask for the protection of their guardian angel. I remind all of my children of Jesus’ words when he said, See that you do not despise any of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father (Matt 18:10). Each of us has a guardian angel, and we might as well ask for their help!

2) I have asked this child to be specific about what is stressful, and I have listened carefully and observed patterns in what is said. If a particular theme keeps rising to the top, I sit down and talk with this child at a time when we are both calm, and tell this child what I have noticed. Then, I have asked if this child would like to hear my suggestions. If yes, I will give a couple of practical tips and ask if this child needs my help in implementing them.

3) I have tried to keep our schedule predictable and fairly low-key.

I would love to hear your suggestions on helping children cope with stress!

Mary, Queen of Families, pray for us!

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  • Mary Alice

    I am extremely prone to just that sort of “what if” anxiety, and one thing that helps me is to think through the possible scenarios and my response. Another thing that has helped is just plain surviving more of these “what ifs” and coming out on the other side a little bit more resilient. Pathetically, I have a plan in my head for what happens if my husband dies. I know that my plan is probably not what will actually happen, but the death of my husband while my family is young is my greatest fear, and having thought through a plan allows me to sleep at night.

    So, could you try talking through some of the what ifs in the moment, indulging his anxiety a little bit? What if the teacher changes her mind and there is a test? What if you forget all of your spelling words? We will still love you, you can ask for a retest, or you will just live with a zero in your GPA. What if your best friend is absent and no one lets you sit at their lunch table? You will eat lunch alone, and we will still love you. What if Dad loses his job? We will move in with grandma and won’t it be crazy for a while?

    My children, particularly the oldest ones, seem to need to be told from time to time that we totally accept that they are not perfect and that our love for them is bigger than that, as it is modeled on God’s love for them.

    Another major factor in resiliency is apparently hearing stories about times that your family has over come difficulty, or even just times that your parents have screwed up. My kids LOVE to hear about the times that I got in trouble at home or at school, what the consequences were, etc.

  • I have one child that seems particularly prone to stress, and this child shuts down when the situation is uncomfortable. We talk about it a lot, but at the end of the day I’ve had to push this child more than the others to try new things and “get used to” dealing with uncertainty and slightly uncomfortable situations. I am more comfortable pushing this child because we homeschool, so my children have limited exposure to stress outside the home. It sounds to me like you are doing an excellent job with your approach! Because he goes to school and feels this stress there, you are keeping things at home low key and helping him navigate the stress he has daily. It helps me sometimes to just remember that every kid is going to have their unique challenges and unique strengths, and that I should not worry too much (or in the case of a strength take too much pride) about it. My job is simply to help them navigate and figure out what works for them and how they will best serve God with their vocation. I don’t control the end result, I don’t control their strengths and weaknesses, I simply control how I assist or hinder their growth. Seems like you are doing a great job with all these things already 🙂

  • Mary

    You might look up the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, as they’re really very good when dealing with the overwhelming anxiety that comes with the what-ifs. Everyone plays the what if game… but not everyone develops stress and anxiety, and not to the same degree when dealing with them. Minimizing the anxiety is actually not helpful, but helping your child learn to live with it will, paradoxically, help to eventually diminish it.