A recent study found that 85% of teens say they are stressed. The number one cause: stress at home!
Take a home climate check. Are there opportunities for your family to relax? Make sure your home is a place where your kids can de-stress. Is there time for laughs and fun? Are there opportunities for the kids and you to enjoy one another? Are there regular family meals?
Build in times where you and your kids can relax together. Turn the garage into a gym. Set up a basketball hoop. Buy bikes at a garage sale or a yoga tape to pop into the DVD player and do together with your daughter.
Check the schedule: Is there time for your child to decompress or is the day jam-packed with activities? Is there one thing on that calendar that can be cut to free up time?
Watch for stress builders. Sleep deprivation, poor nutrition and lack of exercise can exacerbate stress. Try to keep your child to a regular sleep schedule. Watch caffeine intake in items such as coffee, energy drinks, cold and cough syrup medication, which can rob sleep. Turn off any digital screen 30 minutes prior to lights out.
Take care of yourself! Parents can be a “stress generator,” so watch your own behavior. Are you for the most part calm and relaxed or stressed and uptight? Kids mirror our behavior and take cues from us.
Learn your kid’s stress signs
Each kid responds to stress differently, but the key is to identify your child’s “normal” behavior and then what deviates from that norm, especially during the time he or she feels “pushed” or “frustrated” or “overwhelmed.” You will soon recognize a pattern — the same physical, behavioral or emotional signs emerge right before an overload. That will be your cue to help him decompress. It is critical that your teen learn to recognize his own signs, so when away he can learn to manage or cope that stress load. Here are common stress signs to look for.
Possible Physical Stress Signs
Headache, neck ache and backache
Nausea, stomach ache
Shaky hands, sweaty palms, feeling shaky, light-headedness
Change in appetite
Frequent colds, fatigue
Possible Emotional or Behavior Stress Signs
New or reoccurring fears, anxiety and worries
Trouble concentrating, frequent daydreaming
Restlessness or irritability
Social withdrawal, unwilling to participate in school or family activities
Moodiness or sulking
Inability to control emotions
Acting out, anger, aggressive behaviors such as tantrums, disorderly conduct
Teach stress reducers
There is no “right” stress reducers. The trick is to find the one that works best for your child.
For younger children (preschoolers):
Blow those worries away. Teach breathing skills by telling kids to blow up a balloon in their tummy as you slowly count to three, and then let out with exaggerated “ahhh” sounds. Kids can also practice taking slow, deep breaths using a bubble blower until they get the right “feel.”
Melt the tension. Tell your child to make his body feel stiff and straight like a wooden soldier so that every bone from his head to toe is “tense” (or “stressed”). Then tell him to make his body limp (or “relaxed”) like a rag doll. Once he can make himself relax, he can find the spot in his body where he feels the most tension; perhaps his neck, should muscles, or jaw. He can then close his eyes, concentrate on the spot, tense it up for three of four seconds, and then let it go.
For school age children:
Teach a stress buster formula of 1 + 3 + 10. This is three step approach that kids can apply when they feel their body getting tense. The “1″ is to first stop and tell yourself, “Be calm.” The “3″ reminds them to take three deep breaths. Then they should count slowly to ten inside their heads. You might print the formula on large pieces of paper to help kids remember it.
Make a ‘Stress Box.’ Invite the whole family to fill a shoebox with simple and proven stress reducers such as a notepad and pencil (to draw or write their stress away); a small Koosh ball, Playdoh or clay to work their stress out; an MP3 or CD player and relaxation sounds to listen to with earphones. Then suggest that your kids go to the stress box whenever you see stress start to mount.
Bring on the tunes. Suggest that they load their iPod with music that helps them tune out and relax.
Exercise: Walking. Bike riding. Rowing. Swimming. Playing basketball. Encourage your son or daughter to take advantage of the health facilities that are usually on a high school or college campus.
Get some yoga on. Adolescents credit yoga as teaching relaxation and breath control. So why not do it with them? Purchase a yoga DVD that you can do at home together, or invite another parent and teen to join and make it a weekly routine.
Get help from a mental health professional!
All kids will show signs of stress now and then, but be concerned when you see a marked change in what is ‘normal’ for your child’s behavior that lasts longer than two weeks. When you see your child struggling and feeling overwhelmed, it’s time to seek help from a mental health professional.
Don’t wait: Stressed-out kids are two to four times more likely to develop depression, and as teens they are much more likely to become involved with substance abuse.
If you suspect your teen is depressed, share your concerns: “I’m worried about how stressed you are.” Or “I’m concerned you may be depressed. Let’s get help.” If your teen is in college print the depression signs posted on your teen’s college website or at www.acha.org and show him. Give him the phone number of the counseling services.