Many adults reflect on their childhood days through rose-colored glasses. We tend to remember the happy times— fun family vacations, close friendships, holiday celebrations and more. And there’s nothing wrong with reveling in such memories.
But if we take off those glasses, we’re likely to also remember the pressures of doing well in school, or the bully who made us feel small, or the fights our parents had over money.
Childhood isn’t now (and probably never was) a scene out of an old school sitcom. We had plenty of stresses to manage as we grew into adulthood. But in modern culture, childhood stress has reached a whole new level.
“Today’s kids and teens are under more pressure than ever,” says Andrew Malekoff, Executive Director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center. “They’re expected to excel at school; they’re often overbooked with extracurricular activities; and, in the biggest change of all, they experience a constant barrage of social media messages that can often make them feel like they’ll never measure up to their peers.”
One thing that is essential to healthy development is free time to daydream, but children and teens spend most of their time on digital devices, be it their phones, iPads or videogames. “Most kids are just too busy after school to relax and let their creative juices flow,” says Malekoff. “And in their downtime, they are glued to their screens.”
In addition, kids are not immune to the news about war, terrorism, school shootings and conflicts in our society, with people taking sides and forgetting how to disagree with a measure of kindness and civility.
All of these messages and non-stop activities create a huge amount of stress—and very little ability to know how to deal with it.
Following are seven tips on how you can help your child or teen manage their stress level and find balance in their lives.
- If your kids are booked with activities and homework from dusk to dawn, ask them if they are feeling overwhelmed. Let them know you will not be disappointed if they decide to lighten their schedule.
- While you can’t shield your children from all of the stresses you have in your own life, it’s important that you don’t overwhelm them and transfer your anxieties onto them. Be mindful of your language when discussing subjects like financial or health concerns around your kids, especially the little ones.
- Did your child see something on the news or hear something from friends that scared them? Don’t simply tell them not to worry; talk to them about their fears and reassure them that your family is safe.
- How you respond to stressors in your life will have a huge impact on how your children learn to do the same. Next time you are feeling overwhelmed, model behavior that can be helpful to your child, such as taking a deep breath, exercising or gardening.
- Spending time in nature is a great tool for lifting your mood and relieving stress. Click here to read about some great ideas for exploring nature with your kids.
- Make sure your child is getting enough sleep. If they have trouble falling asleep, eliminate electronics at least an hour before bed. Suggest that they read a book, and when it’s light’s out time, keep the room dark. For more on sleep requirements based on age, check out this article from the Washington Post.
- Kids feel more comfortable when the family has routines that they can depend on. One simple idea: Institute family game night, so everyone will experience a fun and relaxing time together.