Sometimes we do not give kids enough credit for all they go through. As parents, we see our fair share of stressors every day and romanticize the “carefree” life of a kid. But being a kid has a whole host of stress that is very real, especially for them.
The demands that we place on children have far exceeded what they can do healthily. Our nation’s obsession with testing, hours upon hours of homework, the over-scheduling of “free time” with enough enrichment activities to ensure that come high-school they will be considered well-rounded enough individuals to be accepted to a high-performing university, among other things would lead any well-functioning adult to a nervous breakdown, much less a child. Kids are constantly having to weigh their decisions under the lens of the social pressures of worrying about making decisions regarding what they say or wear that can affect their place in the pecking order of social circles at school. But honestly... what stress, right?
And unlike when we were kids, today’s youth are dealing with the constant pressure of social media. The stress of knowing that any choice they make, good or bad, may be immortally recorded on social media for the entire world to see and judge, and for them to relive over and over again. Birthdays that they weren’t invited to are now shoved in their face and bullying via text messaging and social media platforms is out of control.
It’s not uncommon for kids entering high school as freshmen to be guided into planning out their high school experience based on college or post college decisions. Meanwhile, the vast majority of these kids not only don’t know what they want to do when they grow up, but they often resent being asked the question. At that age you can literally ask them daily what they want to be and you will get a different answer. So how are they going to be able to make such a big decision at that point in their life? All the stress built up around this just adds onto every other stress they already have.
You’re probably thinking that this article is a huge bummer, aren’t you?
And it’s true. This post is a total downer. But it’s the reality folks. And before you can help your kids through it, you need to understand exactly what you are up against.
Yeah, yeah, ok I get it. Kids are stressed out. But what can I do about it?
Well, first, you learn to recognize the signs that your kids are desperately trying to send you. Because honestly, they need your help, and whether they are doing it consciously or subconsciously, they are sending you big HUGE honking red flags. Physical signs are the easiest to spot and can be anything from bed wetting and problems with their sleep to upset stomach and other symptoms with no actual physical illness. Behavioral and emotional signs can be a little harder to spot, but they include constant worrying, anger, aggression, clinginess, fearfulness, and not being able to relax, to name a few.
Sound familiar? We’ve checked a couple of those boxes here in our home… So now the question becomes: what can I do about it?
One of the best things we can do for our children is provide a safe and dependable home. Family routines help a lot. Things like having family dinners and movie nights provide rituals and constants for children. As a parent, be a role model of healthy behavior. If you can keep your own stress managed, it will show that, yes, things do stress you out, but you have a healthy way of handling it. Spending relaxed time with your child will go a long way.
Also take care to notice what kinds of media your child is taking in. The television they watch (including YouTube), video games they play, and books they read can all have an effect on their psychological outlook on life. Just think about how watching the news can stress you out as an adult and think about how much that affects your child if they are watching it as well. All this media that is thrown at us today can have a real effect on how anxious and fearful children are, and they’re modeling the behaviors around them. So when their friends start freaking out about stuff, their natural inclination is to follow suit unless they see other options.
Learn to listen to your child. Let them know they have self-worth. Be affectionate and encouraging. Listen to them vent, actually hear them, and validate their feelings without being critical or trying to solve the problem for them. Work with your child. Help them understand how to solve their problem instead. Make plans, strategize. Effectively what you are doing is teaching them that they have control over their life. Once they understand that they have the power to choose how they deal with what is coming at them they will learn how to filter everything and categorize it into not worth my time and energy, this will resolve itself with time, and this is big I need to address it-- whether on their own or with parent, school counselor, or therapist.
If your child is still super stressed out, and things aren’t improving, don’t hesitate to contact a professional. Someone at school or a private therapist that can sometimes reach kids in a way that their parents just can’t, particularly in older kids. And know that oftentimes attending these sessions are only a temporary thing, not a life-long commitment to therapy. Once the kids have sorted stuff out they are many times able to manage without them using the skills they have learned.
Looking for other anxiety tools for kids? Check out our SUNCards! SUNCards™ are decks of cards that were developed by a 10 year old girl, and use evidence based strategies like cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, positive psychology, and random acts of kindness to help kids manage their anxiety. They feature lovable monsters who share confidence building positive affirmations, and helpful tasks for redirection. Best of all, for every deck purchased another deck is donated to a nonprofit that serves kids.