How to Help Your Child or Teen Navigate Stress
It’s October—the leaves are starting to change, the air is a bit crisper, the daylight hours are waning, and your child or teen is starting to exhibit signs of stress. This time of year is when I have noticed an influx of parents bringing their children and teenagers to counseling—they have settled into a new school year; summer is a distant memory; and school work, social stress, and family life are getting busier and busier!
Here are some signs and symptoms that your child or teen might be experiencing stress:
- Somatic/physical complaints: Especially stomach aches and headaches; tight muscles, difficulty with sleep, tiredness, loss of appetite.
- Verbal cues: “I don’t want to go to school,” “I’m tired, “I don’t feel like doing anything.” Whining, crying, and arguing more.
- Non-Verbal cues: Tantrums, quick bursts of anger, fighting among siblings, lack of cooperation, yawning, and lethargy.
Stress is a normal part of our lives and our brains require a certain amount of stress to give us the motivation we need to complete tasks or change behaviors. However, too much stress can put our brains and bodies into overload, causing mental and physical depletion and illness.
Here’s some tips on how to keep you and your family functioning well during the busiest and most stressful time of the year!
- The National Sleep Foundation recommends that children aged 6-13 years should get anywhere from 7-12 hours of sleep per night; Teens aged 14-17 years should get 7-11 hours of sleep, and adults aged 26-64 years should get 6-10. Research has shown that light from electronics send cues to your brain that it is still daytime and can cause disruptions in your sleep cycle. End screen time 30-60 minutes before bedtime, start dimming lights and create a calm, relaxing bedtime routine.
- I don’t mean the latest diet trend to lose weight! Getting enough nutrients at regular intervals throughout the day keeps the body and brain healthy and functioning optimally. If you have concerns about your child or teen’s eating habits, see your primary care physician or a nutritionist for additional ideas and support.
- Social Interaction
- Neuropsychologists have researched and found that our brains contain circuitry that thrives on positive social interactions! When we do not have positive contact with the important people in our lives, our health suffers. Make time for those you love and care about—you’ll be helping their health and yours!
- Staying active optimizes our moods, cognitive alertness, and physical health. If your child is not involved in regular physical activity, get out there with them! Go for family bike rides, play a game of neighborhood touch football, or head to the local rec center a few times a week.
- Taking Breaks
- When you pick your child up from school, be sure not to bombard them with questions about their day or what they learned—save that for some face-to-face time at the dinner table. They have been using their brains for many hours at school, and so have you at work! Let their brain and your brain have some down time and relax for 30 minutes to an hour when first getting home.
- I have noticed a cultural trend towards wanting to “push through” and take a break “when everything gets done.” Research has shown that our brains work optimally for about 50 minutes at a time with a 5-15 minute break in between. With the break, the next 50 minutes are more productive than if there had been no break! Don’t wait for summer vacation! Encourage yourself and your children to take breaks here and there every day.
- It seems that especially with teens, I hear often that “my parents don’t listen to or understand me” and sometimes parents feel the same about their teen! Instead of trying to immediately lecture or problem solve when your teen is talking with you, try to slow down and hear what they are really saying. Ask questions like, “What do you think about that?” or “What was that like for you?” Also give them a spoonful of empathy—“I’m sorry that made you so sad” or, “That must have been upsetting for you to hear that.” Empathy lowers the defenses and helps your teen feel safe and understood!
Taking the time to tune into the cues your children or teens are sending you, checking in with them, and practicing these healthy habits can set you and your family up for success in handling stress as they grow and develop.
Here at Grace Counseling we care deeply for children, teens, and their families. We have many counselors and resources to help your family deal with anxiety, depression, and any life transitions you may be experiencing. We can help!
Marinda is a graduate of the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Master’s degree program at Denver Seminary (with Honors). She has been practicing since May of 2014 and prior to that completed a year of internship and practicum experience. Marinda enjoys working with children, teens and their families and has experience in areas such as anxiety, depression, adoption issues, divorce issues, social issues, self-harm/suicidal behavior, and other family transitions.
720-489-8555 ext. 135
National Sleep Foundation (2015). www.sleepfoundation.org.
Arden, John (2014). The Brain Bible. New York: McGraw Hill.