How to handle kids’ stress and anxiety

By Mieke Vlok
17 June 2017

Make it a rule in your family that negative feelings are totally acceptable, but that resorting the shouting, swearing, physical violence etc is not condoned.

Kids these days have it tough!

Expectations are extremely high, competition for places in the best High Schools, Colleges and Universities are limited, extra mural activities have become an accepted part of the school day and children just do not seem to be able to take time out to simply play and be children.

Add to that the impact of technology and all that means in the daily lives of even very young children. Children are exposed to high powered advertising on TV and this places enormous pressure on them to own the latest fashions and devices etc.

Anne Cawood is the author of various parenting books and works with Baby Sense. She shares her tips for helping your kids navigate stress.

1)      From the beginning try to avoid too many after school activities. Some Grade 1s are doing an extra mural every afternoon of the week – plus Saturday mornings.

2)      They also do not need play dates if they have no extra murals.

3)      Although academic achievement is important, be careful that your child is not over pressurized. And avoid comparing to class mates – who may be more capable than yours.

4)      Make sure that you have realistic expectations. Also that they are age appropriate.

5)      Provide firm boundaries from the start. These provide the safe containment every child needs.

6)      Tune into your child constantly. Ensure that your child knows that her feelings are affirmed. Decode behavior. Some children do not open up easily. Watch her body language and also any changes in behaviour. This does not mean that you need to “suffocate” your child with ongoing concern. It is a case of being aware and tuned in. Avoid too many direct questions. These only increase anxiety. Rather try to develop the skill of using indirect questions. “ It seems that you have had a hard day today” is far easier to respond to than “ Why are you so quiet today?”

7)      Be aware of the stress levels in the home. Adult stress and anxiety is absorbed by children – it becomes infectious. Of course a measure of this is unavoidable – but be aware of the need to find adult channels to cope with it.

8)      Make it a rule in your family that negative feelings are totally acceptable, but that resorting the shouting, swearing, physical violence etc is not condoned.

9)      Set limits on “screen time”. Families need time when there are no distractions – just calm and quiet time to communicate and connect.

10)   Ensure that you make time for fun and relaxation. The ability to laugh, enjoy physical activity as a family, share times where memories are made and family members can appreciate just being together – these are all the ingredients for stress relief.

Finally, if you are in any way concerned about your child or teen’s stress levels/ changed behavior/ emotional withdrawal – do not hesitate to contact a professional for advice.

As parents we have enormous challenges to meet. We also need help with our many problems and stresses. Parenting is a 24/7 and 7 day a week responsibility. Children do not arrive with a “How to handle” manual. Therefore we should not hesitate to ask for assistance when we are battling to cope.

Anne Cawood is the author of various parenting books (Children need Boundaries, Toddlers need Boundaries, Teenagers need Boundaries, Children need Grandparents and Adjusting the Boundaries) and a Baby Sense Expert. For more expert parenting advice, visit www.babysense.com.

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