Stress and anxiety are normal feelings that all people experience. However, how we deal with these feelings can be vastly different. Anxiety and stress seem to be growing concerns among younger and younger students, often leading to poor school attendance and other issues.
Like adults, children and youth cope with stress in a variety of ways. They may act out, shut down, avoid situations or self medicate with food, alcohol or drugs. This post will look at some ways to help your child cope with difficult emotions and stressful situations.
Ask the expert
Even at a young age, your child will often be able to communicate the cause of their worries. Sometimes we try to come up with our own reasons, but try asking your child what you can do to help them feel better and what has helped them in the past when they have felt that way.
Work together to devise coping strategies
Help them connect their emotions with physical symptoms that they may experience. There are many of physical indicators of stress: stomach aches, muscle tension, shakiness, headaches and changes in body temperature are just a few. Talk with your child and help them come up with a list of strategies that help them to calm down when they start to experience a particular feeling. Different strategies will work for different people but some examples are deep breathing, muscle relaxation, listening to music, physical activity, talking to someone they trust and using positive self talk.
Manage your own stress
It is easy to forget that our children are always watching and are directly affected by the stresses of those around them. When we model positive ways to manage anxiety, relationships and health, it rubs off on our children. You are your child’s first and best teacher!
Give the gift of time
Some children are so scheduled that they have next to no time to just “be a kid”. Extra-curricular activities are great for kids, but self-directed time is also important. Along these lines, having regular one-on-one time where you listen and acknowledge the validity of their feelings is another gift of time that you can give to your child.
Communicate with your child’s teacher
If you have concerns about your child, whether it be about bullying, homework or even if you don’t know the cause of your child’s anxiety, I would encourage you to make an appointment with school staff to communicate your concerns and work together to come up with solutions.
Encourage their individuality
To some extent, we all measure our achievements against external standards set by peers and family members. Be sure to recognize your child’s goals and celebrate their achievements, whatever they may be.
Teach them that imperfections are OK…and so is failure
We all want to protect our children when things go wrong. The fact is though, that sometimes things don’t go as expected. Bad grades, being cut from a team and pimples are all unpleasant but normal parts of life. If they don’t learn how to deal with these situations now, they will have an even more difficult time coping with stress as adults.
Seek help if you need to
According to Health Canada, anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental health problems. Anxiety and mental health issues affect all ages, races, genders and socioeconomic groups. The good news is that these disorders can be successfully treated. It is important to recognize the difference between being anxious in response to a real event, and an anxiety disorder which produces negative feelings that are out of proportion to the situation. If you think that your child’s stress or anxiety falls into this category, the sooner you reach out, the better. There are a number of programs run in schools and through community agencies in Simcoe County that can help you and your child.
Here are a couple of great starting websites to explore local services:
Alison Golding is Vice-Principal at W.H. Day ES in Bradford and a regular contributor to Sharing Simcoe. Read her bio here.