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How to Handle Stress in Your Children

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While the cause of stress in your children depends on a variety of influences, you can provide hope and support through security and comfort.

When I was younger, my brother and I played a game where we would try to read our parents’ minds.

We’d invent conversations between our parents to guess their thoughts or feelings. Most of the time, we imagined our dad’s opinions on the latest sports highlight or our mom’s plans for dinner that night. But other times, our game took a slightly different turn.

Some nights, we noticed our parents acted a bit differently. We couldn’t always tell why, but their conversations just felt strange to us. We noticed changes in tone or volume. Sometimes, we heard long lists of questions or urgent phone calls.

Often, we rarely knew what happened within these conversations. But we could tell something was different. And it affected us.

Thinking about it now, those moments that felt different as a kid, were situations of stress for my parents. Imagine that…parents feeling stress. Yet, as kids, my brother and I had no clue. But their stress still influenced us.

For parents, it’s important to know your actions, words, and behaviors affect your kids. That might sound like a self-evident statement, but there’s no understating your impact upon your kids. Your response to stress in your own life shapes how your children view you. However, your personal stress isn’t the only thing that might cause stress in your children.

So, what should you do to help your children handle their stress? Well, understanding what might cause stress in your children is an excellent first step.

Causes of Stress in Children

Across any age, children’s responses to stress depend on their personalities, interests, and perspectives. Similarly, the cause of stress in your children depends on a variety of influences.

It can be easy to blame external factors or explain away difficulties as growing pains. However, understanding what causes stress in your children can provide a path towards peace.

Consider your own child’s activities and schedule. Think about the following list of common causes of childhood stress to find any connections in your own life.

Academic Performance

High expectations within the classroom can lead to worry about performance. Stress in this area can connect with a fear of making mistakes or perfection.

Extracurricular Activities

 Alongside academics, activities such as sports, drama, art, or music can cause stress in your children. Learn to support your children through these activities. Consider that you might be over-scheduling your child.

Bullying

Whether subtle or overt, this is a serious problem for many children. Apart from stress, bullying can lead to embarrassment, withdrawal, and progressive negative thoughts and emotions.

Friendships

This can be a tricky one as your children grow and develop. Look for stress within friendships at those key transition stages such as middle school, high school, and college.

Family Changes

This one can be subtle. Major life changes might seem obvious, but sometimes the effects can have rippling effects within your children. From the arrival of a new sibling to a divorce to an unexpected move or death, family changes can unfortunately cause stress in your children.

Signs of Stress in Children

It is normal for your child to feel a wide range of emotions such as fear, anger, and worry. But, when these emotions begin to affect your child’s behavior and daily habits, there might be more significant problems.

Stress is different from anxiety. While stress and anxiety are synonymous with worry and fear, they do contain distinct differences. Most importantly, stress is usually more isolated than anxiety. Anxiety is characterized by persistent worries that don’t seem to go away. On the other hand, stress is a natural and common response to a situation such as a life change or external threat.

The processes of addressing stress and anxiety contain key differences. If you think your child might experience prolonged worry or fear, consider reading some of our resources on anxiety.

Let’s explore some of the primary signs of stress in your children.

Behavioral or Mental

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Getting into trouble at school
  • Rise in number of fears
  • Uncharacteristic disobedience

Emotional

  • Angry outbursts
  • Unusual patterns of crying
  • Nightmares
  • Clinginess
  • Withdrawing from family or friends

Physical

  • Unexpected stomach pain
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Biting nails
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Excessive fighting

While these signs might not always indicate stress, they can be helpful in determining when appropriate actions are necessary.

Stress and Your Family

Some families are predisposed to stress because of a variety of influences. Maybe there could be an external source of pressure that causes unwanted stress. For some children, there could be a social or academic source of stress. Perhaps it might be a cultural or geographic influence that impacts the amount of stress within your life.

Regardless of the source, stress unfortunately touches everyone in a family. Take a pregnancy for example. Alongside the joy and wonder in the hope of a new child, stress exists. And it extends beyond the mother and the baby. The father experiences stress in providing care and support. Other children find stress in navigating the implications attached to the arrival of a new sibling. Even grandparents experience stress throughout the stages of a pregnancy.

Learning to appropriately address stress in your own life will benefit your family, especially your children. Remember, your children observe changes in your behavior. How you treat your spouse, your family, and your children serves as a window into your own heart. Even though your children might not understand every little detail of your life, they certainly see changes in your mood and actions. At times, things within your life can influence and create stress in your children. And when coupled with different external stressors from school, friends, extracurricular activities, and their own world, stress can begin to overwhelm your kids.

Steps to Managing Stress

Establishing healthy patterns is essential to overcoming stress in your children. Yet, it might not always seem like the easiest thing to do. Helping your child learn to cope with stress can take time. And that’s okay.

Managing stress changes as our environments change, and that happens a lot as your children grow up. However, as a parent, you can provide hope and comfort for you children by creating security in habits and positive activities.

Prayer

Throughout the Bible, it’s no coincidence that when a variety of people talk about how to address stress, they usually mention prayer. 

Within Psalm 55:22, King David writes, “Cast your burden on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved.”

In another psalm, David writes, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.”

Even modern news sources recognize the positive influence of prayer over stress.

Point your child towards both physical and spiritual comfort. Try guiding your child to a quieter place either within your house or even outside. Help calm him by asking questions with a peaceful tone. Then, begin to pray! Start with short sentences, even pausing can help too. Finally, ask your child if he has anything he wants to pray about too. If you need help modeling prayers, consider looking through the Psalms or Jesus’ prayers.

Expression

Finding the best way to release stress is important for your kids. Like prayer, your role as a parent can help encourage your kids towards positively expressing their stress to find peace and comfort. Remember, you know your children best, so create a path to releasing stress that puts them first! Explore some of the following ideas for your kids.

  • Exercise: Consistent exercise is one of the best ways to release stress. Encourage your children to maintain exercise through a sport they enjoy, playing outside, biking, or even going on walks. Try to join your child in these activities to model commitment and build unity.
  • Write or Draw: Depending on the age of your child, writing could be a helpful medium to release stressful thoughts and feelings. Perhaps for younger children consider opening a fresh pack of crayons and paper or even directing them towards a digital outlet for navigating stress.
  • Travel: While this could mean a traditional week-long vacation, also consider a day’s escape to a place they’ve never been before. Try changing your child’s environment to create distance from something that might cause stress. Then, address key topics by asking thoughtful questions.

Support

Acknowledging your children’s feelings is critical to success. Providing reassurance that their thoughts and feelings are valid communicates how much you love and value them.

When addressing stress with your children, remember to maintain positive touch and body language. Look them in the eye and give them a hug. Sometimes physical touch shows support more than your words.

Learn to balance your instruction and teaching with your listening and support. About children, the prophet Isaiah says, “All your children will be taught by the Lord, and great will be their peace.” With faithfulness and trust, the Lord will guide your children. Focus on cultivating trust with your kids.

Be honest with your kids about your own struggles. Appropriately sharing your experiences can provide support between you and your children.

Final Thoughts on Handling Stress in Your Children

Remember to be gracious with yourself and your kids. Ensure that your kids know you love them for who they are. Give yourself and your kids equal amounts of time to learn and grow.

If you would like to talk to someone further about stress in your children or need help finding a counselor in your area, Focus on the Family offers a one-time complimentary consultation from a Christian worldview. You can reach a counselor at 1-855-771-HELP (4357).


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There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.
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Understand How to Respect and Love your Son Well

Why doesn’t my son listen to me? Have you ever asked that question? The truth is, how you see your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. In fact, we’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.

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Is the love there, but not the spark? Reawaken fun in your marriage and move from roommates to soulmates again with the help of this 7-part online video experience. Learn how to connect emotionally and spiritually as husband and wife using techniques such as dreaming together and establishing deep, heartfelt communication. The Digital Experience includes 7 teaching videos, an online study guide and access to additional tools and resources to help spouses reconnect.

Next Steps: Marriage Assessment

We want your marriage to be thriving and healthy. Take the free Marriage Assessment from Focus on the Family to learn how to strengthen your bond with your spouse and get the tools to help you need to grow closer together. 

Next Steps: Fruit of the Spirit Devotionals for Couples

The Fruit of the Spirit Devotional is a free series of nine short videos to get you into God’s Word and inspire you to seek the Holy Spirit’s help in loving your spouse.

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