From day-to-day stressors like homework and whom to sit next to at lunch to larger stressors like changing schools or facing a family medical issue, our children are not immune to stress. Teaching them healthy ways to deal with stress from an early age can help set them up for success as they grow and deal with new stressors—paying bills and calming a colicky baby come to mind.
This month, two Christian parents who are also licensed professional counselors from WLCFS–Christian Family Solutions share their thoughts on how to help our kids deal with stress.
How can we help a stressed-out kid?
My nine-year-old son doesn’t like it when I’m away, and my husband and I are going to be away for a week in another country for a wedding in a couple months. Needless to say, he’s pretty stressed.
You may not be leaving the country, but if you have children, you will deal with a stressed-out child at some point. Here are some strategies to consider.
Identify the sources of stress
Is your child stressed by a situation (external) or by a thought (internal)? Identifying the source of stress helps in knowing how to deal with it in a productive way. For example, is your child stressed by the amount of homework and the time it takes, or is he or she stressed by the fear of getting a poor grade or not being “smart enough”? We were able to find out that my son isn’t stressed as much by the fact that we’ll be gone as he is by the fear that something bad will happen to us and we won’t come back.
Problem-solve external stressors
If the stress is due to a situation, brainstorm possible solutions as a family. Is your child involved in too many activities? Decide together what to limit, and help your child with time management. Is your child stressed because of friends? Role-play appropriate social skills, or suggest a playdate to foster friendships. My son gets the most stressed at night, so he will have his siblings and dogs sleep with him while we’re gone and FaceTime with us to say good night.
Attack and correct internal stressors
One of our favorite books describes an internal stressor as a “worry bully” that sits on your shoulder and talks to you. The book suggests you “talk back to it . . . flick it off your shoulder and . . . squash it with your foot.”
We can help our children to see and to say the truth back to those lies in their head that stress them out. Does your daughter think she’s not pretty enough? Remind her that she is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Teach her to talk back to her fear. Does your son think he’s not good at anything? Read Ephesians 2:10 that says he is “God’s handiwork,” created to do great things God has prepared for him. We talked with my son about the statistics that say flying is the safest way to travel, and he picked out his favorite Bible passage to comfort him when he gets stressed—1 Peter 5:7.
Practice regular stress relief
Finally, help your children find activities that help them release their stress—take deep breaths, write in a journal, go for a walk, or play a sport outside. Use a song, book, or TV show as a distraction. Draw. Talk to God. Talk to a family member or friend. Think about a good memory. Play a game.
When he is feeling stressed, my son finds his “crazy sister” who always makes him laugh. He also talks to one of my colleagues once in a while and loves the tools he has learned in counseling.
Stress is inevitable for all of us. When we see it in our children, it’s an opportunity for us to speak the truth and comfort that God’s Word offers to them in difficult situations and to teach them healthy coping skills they can use for the rest of their lives.
My wife and I now have the privilege of having both of our children in high school! A new page has turned on our parenting journey, and we have recognized the need for a change in our parenting approaches.
A wise mentor once told me, “The best way to get someone NOT to do something is to tell them to do it.” When the kids were younger, we had this amazing parental power that, for the most part, produced the desired effects. A request to my then 9-year-old son, “Put your coat on before you go outside so you don’t catch a cold,” actually resulted in him putting on his coat. A request to my now 14-year-old son to do the same might result in a reply of, “It’s fine, Dad.” This new development of independence represents a host of small and major decisions that face our kids in their teen years.
Time for a change, my wife and I realized. We can easily see how easy it is for teens to be exhausted, stressed, or overwhelmed. Think about balancing a part-time job, classes, extracurricular activities, and keeping up on numerous social media outlets—all while developing into an independent Christian adult. Wow!
Knowing that these stressors exist and the best way to get our kids NOT to do something showed us that it was time to listen to each other, to our kids, and to the Lord.
Listening to each other
My wife and I determined that we needed to stay on the same page during this teen parenting time. More than a few times my wife has provided gentle reminders to me that my old ways of parenting aren’t working like they used to. And there are some decisions, like a curfew, that need to be enforced consistently by both of us. We have decided that it is important for us to communicate regularly not only to be consistent on major decisions but also to acknowledge our own fears, concerns, hopes, frustrations, and joys that are involved in parenting at this time.
Listening to our kids
A host of ideas, skills, and approaches can help reduce stress in teens. We can all recite the importance of exercise, proper sleep, and nutrition. There are many other practical ways teens can learn to be resilient, but perhaps one of the most important is being heard. Actively listening to your teen as she shares her feelings, weighs the pros and cons of a decision, or just shares the facts of a day, helps to maintain an essential bond with her.
Don’t we all long for someone to talk to who won’t tell us what to do all the time but rather will join us in an understanding of how we feel? The seemingly busy lives of teens can also be quite lonely. Quiet time with Mom and/or Dad, whose hearts are open to reflecting their love for God by being present and actively listening, is an essential gift to our teens’ repertoire of resiliency factors.
Listening to the Lord
The family’s connectedness flows best when it is fueled by the Word. Look for opportunities to hear the gospel message and to reflect on the blessing of knowing that we are his! No time for family devotions any longer? Text a daily passage and family prayer. Remind your teen that the Lord does not abandon us when we make decisions that seem . . . not the most well-informed. He loves us unconditionally—always forgiving, always present, and always comforting.
Parents of teens, let’s continue to reflect on the blessings of our children through any stressors or challenges they may face and consider the opportunity we have to reflect our love for Christ by listening to each other, listening to our teens, and listening to our Lord.
Resources for helping your child
Sarah Reik recommends these resources, both available at amazon.com:
What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety by Dawn Huebner, Ph.D.
The 3 Minute Gratitude Journal for Kids by Modern Kid Press
Author: Multiple authors
Volume 107, Number 01
Issue: January 2020