Summer is winding down, and students have already swung open their school doors, anxious for another year of learning. Acclimating to new schedules, teachers, and classmates can induce stress and anxiety for kids. So how can parents identify signs of stress in their children and find mindful ways to introduce calm coping mechanisms that will serve them well beyond the classroom?
What are some signs of stress and anxiety in children?
According to Kids’ Minds Matter, children are not always capable of verbally expressing their feelings as their emotional intelligence is not fully developed. Therefore, it is important to notice changes in your child’s mood and behavior to acknowledge and help them with feelings of stress and overwhelm. Some signs include developing mild separation anxiety, exhibiting reactions of fear, complaining about school or friends, little to no interest in partaking in their usual activities, changing their habits, abnormal sleeping patterns, irritability, stomach aches, sadness (crying or whining), anger, or having trouble sleeping.
We may be inclined to categorize these behaviors as misbehaving, which often leads to punishment. Before responding, take the time to investigate what might be happening with your child. Since they aren’t fully able to express themselves, it is up to us to know the difference between acting up and acting out due to stress. Mindful approaches to your child’s shifting behavior can help to alleviate stress and anxiety brought on by adapting to change or having difficulties at school.
Here are five tips to help your child navigate stress and anxiety:
Make Sure your Child Gets a Good Night’s Rest
Sleep is essential to a child’s emotional well-being and can help them cope with stress as it allows their mind to reset, relax, and recover. Minimize difficulties that come up in a day with enough quality rest. For 6-12-year-old children, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 9-12 hours of sleep per night. For teenagers, 8-10 hours of sleep will improve their daily mood and help them manage the stresses of school, homework, socializing, and extracurricular activities.
Here are some ways to create an environment that promotes better sleep for your child:
- Keep digital devices out of their rooms at night.
- Ensure that their mattress and pillows are comfortable and don’t cause pain such as neck and back issues.
- Play instrumental music or white noise such as nature sounds.
- Consider investing in an essential oil diffuser for your child’s bedroom. Lavender, roman chamomile, and petitgrain are essential oils that promote a good night’s rest.
Take a Screen Break and Spend Time in Nature
We live in a world dependent upon devices, from phones to tablets and computers. Even homework assignments are transitioning to online learning. Between school work and online social activity, children may spend most of the day in front of a screen. Being aware of how much time your child spends in front of their devices and setting limits will help minimize anxiety and allow them to focus on face-to-face interactions.
Spending time together outdoors is a significant way to relieve a child’s stress, improve their overall well-being, create memories, and strengthen your relationship. Going on daily walks with your child exposes them to fresh air and gives you the opportunity to talk to your child about how they are feeling and gauge any changes in their emotions. In addition, research has shown that walking promotes the release of endorphins that stimulate relaxation and improve our mood.
Practice Yoga, Meditation, and Mindfulness
Yoga and meditation are great tools to reduce stress, become more present, and regulate breathing. For example, during a mindfulness training program for teens, researchers found that teens who learned mindfulness experienced significantly less mental distress than teens who did not.
Yoga poses allow children to release tension through mindful movement of the body. Try these yoga poses with your children regularly to help them feel connected to their breath and body. The Cosmic Kids Yoga Youtube channel also has guided meditation and yoga videos for kids that incorporate animation, fun music, and a lively host to engage and guide your child through yoga and meditation. Cultivating a daily practice can minimize stress before it occurs and support your child with tools for managing it when it does.
Allowing your child to choose a journal that speaks to their likes and interests will inspire them to write in it. Etsy has a plethora of unique kids’ journals in every style imaginable. Offer some suggestions of things to write about in their journal, such as expressing their feelings, writing about their day, making gratitude lists, creating collages, or drawing how they feel. According to the American Psychology Association, expressing oneself in writing can help reduce mental distress. In addition, writing about positive feelings like gratitude, proud moments, accomplishments, or excitement can help kids cope with their negative emotions.
Learn New Recipes with Your Child and Encourage Healthy Eating
Ensuring your child eats a healthy and balanced diet is critical for mind and body development. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains provide nutrients and phytochemicals that give our bodies and brains everything they need to function correctly. Processed foods that contain too much added sugar, food dyes, and additives can heighten a brain’s chemical imbalances. Reduce your child’s stress and build resilience through proper nutrition.
A fun way to spend time with your child is by cooking and learning new recipes. Check out these foods and recipes to help reduce your child’s stress and anxiety levels.
Engaging in low-stress activities creates a safe time and place for them to be more vulnerable, entrust you with what they may be struggling with, and deepen your bond.