How do kids manage stress?

When feeling overwhelmed, most children would rather do something rather than talk about their problems with a peer or parent.  Based upon a survey of 875 nine to 13 year old youngsters conducted by the Nemours Found/KidsHealth, the most frequent responses by kids to stressful situations are to play or do something active (52%), listen to music (44%), or watch TV or play a video game (42%).

The sources of stress are not unexpected, with pressure regarding school (36%) being the most frequent concern, followed closely by issues with family (32%) and friends (21%).

We don’t want over kids to be unhappy, but stress is an inherent part of life. We need to help our children understand and manage unpleasant events in a positive way. I learned four things from this survey.

  1. While only 22% of kids talk to their parents when feeling stressed, 75% of the youngsters indicated that they want help from their parents in dealing with tough situations. This is a bit of a dilemma, as it’s often unclear how to help an unhappy child. Sometimes kids just need your warm and loving presence. Listen emphatically and try to understand their thoughts and feelings without trying to solve their problems.  In other instances, it’s better to do something active with your child. Go to a movie or shopping together or watch a sporting event.  You are the best judge as to what works best in a given situation.
  2. Don’t ever allow stress to be used as an excuse for misbehavior.  About 25% of the kids in this survey used inappropriate ways to deal with problems, such as eating or losing their temper.  Send a strong and clear message that feeling hurt, angry, depressed or overwhelmed is never either an excuse or even an explanation for bad behavior. Be understanding regarding your child’s feelings, but you should punish their bad behavior if they take it out on others, particularly their parents.
  3. Physical activity is a great stress reliever.  Try to incorporate daily exercise in your family’s routine. The physical and psychological benefits of exercise are astounding.  The key is to find something that is fun to do on a regular basis.  Think in terms of life-long hobbies such as tennis, running, and hiking rather than just organized group sports.
  4. Stress is mostly mental.  Most of what we regard as stressful situations is caused by the way we think about events. You can substantially reduce that stress by changing your thought patterns. This works really well when I’m helping youngsters deal with issues with peers or pressure regarding school performance. I focus on helping them change what they can, and ignore and minimize what they can’t.
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