As parents, it’s tough to see our children upset, worried or stressed. And while it’s natural to want to remove every hardship from their lives, letting them experience stress can actually be healthy. They will benefit in the long run from learning how to manage stress on their own, says Blanca Orellana, PhD, clinical psychologist at UCLA Nathanson Family Resilience Center and UCLA Family STAR Clinic.
Here are six ways you can help your child manage stress:
- When stress is good: It’s OK if your child feels anxious about a book report, a ballet recital or a class presentation. Instead of trying to make the feeling go away, show your child how this stress can motivate him or her to work hard and rise to the challenge. The experience of feeling stress and overcoming it with hard work is invaluable. Learning these skills at a young age enhances a child’s ability to cope with stressful situations in the future.
- Experiencing “fight-or-flight” response: When your child is overwhelmed, his or her body engages in “fight-or-flight” mode, which results in greater focus, strength and alertness. By teaching children to recognize these signs, they can learn how to take control of their stress and make confident, smart decisions.
- Provide your child with a safe space: We all need a steady figure in our lives that helps us through turbulent times. For your child, you are that figure. Help children become more resilient and manage their stress by providing a safe and open environment in which they can safely express their emotions to you. Together, you can help your child develop and practice problem-solving skills and relaxation techniques.
- Stick to a routine: Make sure your child gets plenty of sleep, eats a well-balanced diet and has a regular, predictable routine. These habits lay a strong foundation for strengthening your child’s coping skills.
- Recognize signs of stress in your child: Know the signs and symptoms of stress in your child so you can be prepared to help him or her through it. These may include:
- Muscle tension
- Rapid heartbeat
- Difficulty separating from caregivers
- Sleep problems
- Frequent headache and stomach pains
- Changes in eating habits
- Don’t be afraid to seek help: “Bad stress” is when your child is so overwhelmed with a problem that it is interfering with his or her ability to function normally. Don’t be afraid to seek help, both for your child’s sake and your own. A mental-health professional may use cognitive behavioral therapy to help your child learn how to cope with stressful situations and manage their time better to reduce stress. In certain cases, a doctor may recommend anti-anxiety medications.
To find a pediatrician, pediatric subspecialist or family doctor, visit the UCLA physician/provider directory.
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