Like adults, children struggle with stress. And, like adults, children respond differently to stress depending on their age, personalities, and coping skills.
Signs of stress
Signs of stress in children often show up as physical or behavioural changes. Physically, stress can manifest as:
- a change in appetite,
- sleep problems or nightmares, and
- complaints of stomach or headaches.
Common behavioural signs of stress include moodiness, aggression, or clinginess. It could also result in the development of nervous habits, such as thumb-sucking or nail-biting. In addition, stress can cause children to have difficulty concentrating, withdraw from family and friends, and even hoard items.
Causes of stress
Common causes of stress in children include:
- significant changes in the family (divorce, moving, losing a loved one),
- academic pressure,
- being overscheduled,
- bullying, and
- catastrophic events on the news.
Our ‘new normal’ – fear and uncertainty because of a global pandemic – is another major stressor for children of all ages.
Ten quick ways to destress
Finding ways to relieve stress is essential for children (and parents). Here are some quick and easy activities to try when your child appears stressed and overwhelmed:
- Blow bubbles: Blowing bubbles can help children gain control of their breathing, which will help calm them. A bonus is that running around popping bubbles is just as fun (and beneficial) as blowing them.
- Belt it out: Music has a profound effect on mood and listening to music has been proven to help children relax. In addition, the physical act of singing out loud, no matter how off-key, has been shown to release feel-good chemicals in the brain. So let your child belt out their favourite song!
- Pop bubble wrap: When you receive a package, cut the bubble wrap into smaller pieces and save it for when your child needs some stress relief – it’s difficult the resist popping row after row of bubble wrap.
- Hydrate: It may sound silly, but if your child seems overwhelmed, pour them a glass of cold water and have them sip it slowly. Dehydration has been linked to a reduction in mental performance, and sipping cold water will have a calming effect on the nervous system.
- Push against a wall: Let your child try to push the wall over for 10 seconds, three times. This trick allows the muscles to contract in an effort to ‘bring the wall down’, then relax, releasing feel-good hormones, which helps the body to get rid of stress.
- Jump rope: Put on some music and challenge your child to jump to the beat of the song. If your child is unable to jump rope, you can play hopscotch instead.
Also read: Benefits of playing games with kids
- Make and shake a glitter jar: Glitter jars are easy to make – simply fill a plastic bottle or jar with coloured water and glitter. Letting your child shake the jar and watch it for a few minutes will give them a relaxing focal point, allowing their brain and body to ‘reset’.
- Play with clay: Squishing and pounding clay – either store-bought or homemade – can help ease tension, release excess energy, and improve focus. You can even add a few drops of calming aromatherapy oil.
- Bust some moves: Physical activity offers excellent stress relief, and having a dance party can get your child active in a fun way. When your child is stressed, crank up the music and let them show you their moves.
- Bring out the colouring book: Colouring is a great mindfulness activity that reduces anxiety as it gives children something else to focus on.
If your children are older, let them try journaling or creating a vision board. Writing things down can have a profound effect on their mood, especially if they can do so without the fear of someone else reading it. At the same time, the act of cutting words and pictures from magazines that links to their interests and dreams is not only relaxing but will also allow them to think about what they want from life.