Essential Steps to Help Children Cope with Stress
For children and teens, the stress from school, social life, sports, and other activities can weigh in high anxiety and stress levels. We can not completely eliminate these feelings from our children, but we can help them be resilient and bounce back from these challenges. Follow these essential steps below to help children cope with stress.
Step 1: Reframe Stress
Help your child shift from a “stress hurts” mindset to a “stress helps” mindset. Help your children to understand that stress does not last forever. These situations represent challenges to overcome and lessons to learn from. When these stressful experiences occur, and we learn from them, our brain remembers our response and how we overcame it. So, we are prepared for the next similar situation when it comes around. Helping your children reframe this stress shows them they can overcome the situation and will learn from it. They won’t feel this way forever! Below are the steps to follow:
- Accept that you can’t prevent stress, that some stress is beneficial, and that stress can be an opportunity to grow.
- Understand the reasons behind your child’s stress.
- Help your child reframe stress.
- It’s a natural part of life.
- Stress comes and goes.
- You can learn from the situation.
- Guide your child to find areas of growth or lessons that can come from this challenge.
- Think of past stressful situations. How did they overcome those? What did they learn?
Step 2: Shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset
In a stressful situation, feeling overwhelmed and focusing on the negatives are quite common. We often think there’s nothing much we can do, our abilities are limited, and we might as well stop trying. Your child might say, “How much I study doesn’t matter. I’ll never be able to pass this test.” Help your child look at the situation from a growth mindset, not a fixed one. If you hear your child say a fixed mindset statement like, “I can’t do this,” or, “I’m just not good at math,” help them find a growth mindset alternative. Encourage your child to practice growth mindset affirmations and remind them that putting forth effort and trying different solutions will help them solve the problem and reduce their stress.
Step 3: Stop Catastrophic Thinking
Oftentimes, children and teenagers respond to stressful situations with catastrophic thinking. For example, “If a fail my exam, my whole life is ruined!” When this occurs, start with validating their stressful feelings. “I understand you are nervous about the exam.” Next, talk through the worst-case scenario. Ask them, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” If they fail the test, what’s the worst thing that could happen? You can also discuss the likelihood of this scenario or if any other scenarios are more likely to occur. Conclude by asking, “What would you do if it did happen?” and help your child brainstorm solutions. Coming up with a potential solution will help your child feel more in control of their stress. Once they have a plan for the worst-case scenario, they’ll also spend much less time worrying.
Step 4: Practice Problem-Solving
Once your child has adopted a growth mindset from stress, they must learn how to practice problem-solving. Start by asking your child to name how they feel – overwhelmed, worried, anxious – and then repeat it to them. Next, guide your child to their calming space. Let them calm their body and process their emotion so they are ready to problem solve, learn, and grow. Lastly, brainstorm solutions with your child, listening more than talking during the conversation. Once you’ve brainstormed solutions, help your child think through each idea’s positive and negative consequences and then choose one. Getting this nailed down is a skill they can carry on throughout their lives when stressful situations occur.
Step 5: Use Stress-Management Techniques
The techniques listed above will work best when your child is calm. However, nothing can be achieved if your child is not calm. You can help your child achieve this calm state by using stress-management techniques. Below are a few of those techniques you can try:
- Deep breathing
- Listening to music
- Brain breaks
Remember, these are not used to eliminate stress. Instead, they help to calm your child to address the source of their stress and solve the problem.
Your child can’t control how stressful situations unfold, but they can control how they respond to them. By following these tips, stressful situations can be handled in a different light and managed effectively.