Stress has become a part of life for everyone on the planet, children included – which is why it’s essential to consider kids’ mental health: and these 9 tips will help.
Stress itself is not inherently bad. However, chronic stress can cause severe problems for mental health in children, and possibly develop into an anxiety disorder affecting daily functioning.
Statistics on stress & mental health in children
Feeling some amount of stress is normal, and not all stress is necessarily bad. A little stress can even be helpful as it keeps you motivated to accomplish a goal and alert you to avoid dangerous situations. But when the stress level creeps up too much, it can cause problems for mental health in kids and adults alike.
Many things can cause stress, and this stress can be different for everyone. However, we as parents tend to think that children are carefree; but just because kids don’t bear the same responsibilities as adults doesn’t mean they don’t feel scared or anxious during stressful times.
The American Psychological Association reports that:
- 10% of children say stress causes them to get lower grades than they think they can get
- 59% say balancing all their daily activities causes stress
- 40% say they’re irritable due to stress
- 36% say they feel tired because of stress
- 30% say they feel sad or depressed because of stress
Before we share some effective mental health tips for children in stressful times, let’s first understand what makes your kids stressed.
What makes your kids stressed?
In 2006, National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month was established to raise awareness of mental health issues among children.
Some of the things that might stress out your kids or teens are listed below:
- Problems in relationship or friendship
- Moving to a new house/school/community
- Getting a new brother or sister
- Not being very popular at school
- Parents arguing
- The strained relationship between parents or with siblings
- Pressure to act in a certain way
- Giving a presentation in front of the class
- Taking an examination
- Making new friends
- Having too many chores to do
Some children feel a little self-consciousness or a sense of pessimism, which is natural. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, problems can arise when everyday worries start to manifest as nervousness, shyness, withdrawal, and even aggressive behaviour.
Nine effective mental health tips to help children cope with stress
1. Talk openly about feelings
The most important mental health tip for kids is keeping the channels of communication open. Listening to a child’s frustrations and trying to understand their feelings can sometimes help them feel less stressed. So as a parent or carer, you might consider:
- Talking to your child about what’s going on for them: ask them what happened in their day, and what they felt about the day’s events.
- Be attentive to what they say: take your time to listen, and be calm.
- Help your child to know that it’s completely fine to feel different types of emotions.
- Teach your child how to manage small worries to prevent them from becoming large ones.
Above all, never ignore your kids when they come to you with their feelings, no matter how busy you are. If your children have any questions or worries, make sure they know that you are listening.
2. Provide a safe and secure home environment
Children sometimes may feel fearful, and that’s okay. Every person has to deal with fear at some point in life. The feeling of fear or anxiety often arises from an inability to understand or control a situation. As parents, you must be first able to figure out the cause of your child’s fears and what keeps them coming back, so that you can help them overcome them.
Show some love, patience, and reassurance towards your kids rather than being critical. Remember that sometimes even things we might not consider to be a big deal to us can feel huge to our kids.
3. Stop overscheduling
Had a busy day? Chances are, your kids did too.
Today’s children are expected to pay attention and perform their best in school for seven hours, excel at extracurricular activities, come home, finish homework, and go to bed just to do it all over again the next day.
It’s a tough call.
Some coping strategies here include:
- Watch the calendar: try to keep if from being too full. What can they say “no” to?
- Scheduling play and fun – such as short trips on weekends.
- Sit near to them and create a cheerful environment while doing schoolwork – maybe even model the behaviours you want them to do. If you want them to read, then do some reading in the evening too, in public. If you want them to do their music practice, consider taking up or brushing up your skills on an instrument yourself!
4. Teach your kids to think positively
Teaching your child to think positively, challenge the negative racing thoughts in their head, and remain optimistic when faced with difficulties is very important. Doing so helps your kids boost their self-esteem and self-confidence. It also helps them recover from setbacks and failures and continue to be motivated to work hard.
- Help your child explore their strengths.
- Encourage your kids to be involved in different activities and hobbies where they can excel.
- Motivate them by saying, ‘I know you can do it’, ‘You are strong enough to deal with this situation,’ or ‘I know you can handle this. You have been here before.’
- Explain to them that people are different from each other and are good at different things, and they should be proud of what they are good at.
5. Maintain a routine
Kids often feel less pressure when they have a routine to follow. When routines are disrupted, children may find it harder to regulate their emotions as stress and uncertainty increase.
As a parent:
- Help your kids to maintain a routine, including wake-up time, getting ready for school, and bedtime each night.
- Make a basic weekly schedule for your family, so you (and they!) know what to expect.
And when much-loved routines must be broken, break the news gently, and with a little advance warning, if possible.
6. Limit their exposure to the news coverage/ social sites
One of the other best mental health tips for your kids during stressful times is limiting their exposure to social media and news coverage. Your instinct might be to stay glued to the news to stay informed whenever there’s a big crisis in the world, and you tend to watch the news more often. But don’t forget that a constant feed of information can induce anxiety and confuse your kids.
Internet access and social media always carries a risk of exposure to unwanted content, be it overly sexual, violent, or otherwise age-inappropriate.
- Use parental control apps to block sites containing inappropriate content.
- Read newspapers and teach your child to establish the habit of reading newspapers.
7. Teach them healthy ways to manage stress
No matter how calm and secure the home environment, there are always external stressors to deal with – especially as they get older (and, for example, encounter the stress of annual exams). So it’s always the best idea to teach your child how to deal with their stress in healthy ways when they are young.
Teach them some deep breathing techniques such as starfish breathing from an earlier age.
It is an easy way to relax and let go of worries, and gently introduces them to useful concepts like mindfulness which can be so important for good mental health later in life.
8. Encourage physical activities
We all know that good mental health and physical health are strongly interrelated. Another great way to cope with stress is being active (e.g. exercising, walking). It is not only good for your kid’s body, but it can also help improve their mood.
You know what matters here – it’s the basics we all try to get right like:
- Drinking enough water
- Eat a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly and getting some sunlight
- Getting enough sleep each night.
Children are not always fully cooperative when it comes to such things, of course! But even making small improvements to one of these areas can be a great way to boost their energy, mood, and mental health.
9. Seek professional help
This article is not professional or medical advice: if in doubt on any of these issues, consult a licensed health professional.
It is estimated that only 21% of children with mental health issues get treatment: the majority of children with mental health problems aren’t getting the help they need.
There’s no stigma to seeking help when it’s needed – whether it’s the body or the mind that needs a little attention and professional care.
Although stress is a normal part of life, preparing your child to deal with it at an earlier age will set them up for success in the future. Be proactive using the mental health tips in this article to nurture your children; and again, if in any doubt, don’t hesitate to contact a professional.