Top stressors for kids

Here are healthy strategies to help your child cope with their most stressful times.

By Allison Young
Top stressors for kids

Top stressors for kids

Decoding top stressors

We can’t eliminate all stress from our children’s lives, but we can dial down the dose. Here’s how to keep your kids (and you) from pressing the panic button.

Top stressors for kidsPhoto: Casenbina/iStockphoto

Stressor #1: Stressed-out parents

Yes, your stress can rub off on your kids, even when you think you’re hiding it.

How to soften the blow: Don’t hide your stress, spell it out (for example: "I’ve had a bad day and I’m going to take a bath"). "This lets kids know it’s not their fault," says Lisa Marucci, a family therapist in southern Ontario. Learn and practice coping strategies: deep breathing, visualization and meditation. These can work wonders – and you’re modeling coping skills for your kids!

Top stressors for kidsPhoto: Digital Skillet/iStockphoto


Stressor #2: Morning mania

A chaotic AM routine (or lack of routine) can kick kids’ stress into high gear.

How to soften the blow: Get a good night’s sleep for a smoother morning. When you’re tired, you’re less patient. Post a morning to-do list for your child at his or her eye level, suggests Dr. Aaron Lautzenhiser, a family psychologist in Vancouver. Keep it simple: four to five items tops. “Hurry up!” doesn’t work for younger tots, so try a visual timer instead (check out Time Timer). 

Top stressors for kidsPhoto: Dean Mitchell/iStockphoto

Stressor #3: Not making the cut

When kids don’t make the team or get the party invite, it can be crushing.

How to soften the blow: “Let your child grieve,” says Marucci. Don’t minimize their sense of disappointment or reframe what they’re saying to be “all good.” Talk to them and ask questions (for example: "How badly did you want to make the team?"). When they’re ready, be proactive (set up a playdate with the birthday boy or talk to the coach about how to improve for next year).

Top stressors for kidsPhoto: Cara Soyn/iStockphoto

Stressor #4: Peer pressure and bullying

Half the battle is knowing there’s a problem.

How to soften the blow: Check in with your child. “At dinner we go around and say the best thing about our day (your rose) and the worst (your thorn),” says Dr. Lautzenhiser. If your child says "So-and-so is being mean to me," don’t shoot it down. “If we trust our kids feelings, they’ll learn to trust their own feelings,” adds Marucci.

Top stressors for kidsPhoto: Artistic Captures/iStockphoto


Stressor #5: Overscheduling

A hyper-schedule of music, dance, soccer and language lessons can overwhelm kids and parents alike.

How to soften the blow: Balance structured time with free time. “Play is a big way kids understand their world and work through their problems,” says Dr. Lautzenhiser. Overscheduling also detracts from family time when kids are more apt to confess their stress.

Top stressors for kidsPhoto: Rich Vintage/iStockphoto

Stressor #6: Moving and changing schools

Any kind of change can spark stress.

How to soften the blow: Focus on what your child will be gaining not what they’re leaving behind. Play up the positives of the new school and neighborhood and get kids involved in the move (for example: ask for their help decorating the new house). Foster ways to keep in touch with old pals, like playdates and pen pals.

Top stressors for kidsPhoto: Luminastock/iStockphoto

Stressor #7: Parents fighting

All couples argue, but you can dial down the anxiety.

How to soften the blow: Nix name-calling, loud voices and angry words – all things we teach our kids are bad. “If a child is getting conflicting messages, that’s stressful to them,” says Dr. Lautzenhiser.

Be proactive and talk to your kids, even if you don’t think they heard the yelling, suggests Marucci. For example: "Daddy and I had a disagreement. I’m okay, he’s okay… are you okay?"

Top stressors for kidsPhoto: laflor/iStockphoto


Stressor #8: New sibling or stepparent and stepsiblings

Expanding the family can put a strain on kids.

How to soften the blow: Make your child feel a part of things. Play up their new special role in the family and co-plan a family fun day. When kids are in the driver’s seat, they’re less likely to feel stress. Do not have different rules for different kids, warns Dr. Lautzenhiser, or they may think you love one child more.

Top stressors for kidsPhoto: Dose Creative/iStockphoto

More parenting tips!

Top stressors for kidsPhoto: Clicknique/iStockphoto
This article was originally published on Apr 02, 2013

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