One important part of life is learning how to deal with stress. Stress is everywhere, from little things like traffic on the way to work to deeper issues like your children misbehaving in school.
You can’t control the things that cause you stress, but you can manage your reaction to them. And you can model positive responses to your children, so they enter adulthood prepared to tackle everyday stress in healthy, productive ways.
Healthy Ways for Children to Deal with Stress
You may think of stress as a series of things that annoy you. But stress can also be referred to as the gap between expectation and reality. If you expect to get to work on time but experience heavy traffic, for example, it’s easy to be stressed out. This is particularly problematic with young children as they are still learning the rules that govern reality. While it’s easy for adults to understand not to expect too much of a situation, it’s far from easy to give children a fair warning about less desirable realities of life without completely extinguishing their optimism and wonder. With children, it is often a matter of learning to handle the feelings that stress can create in a healthy manner.
Exercise is one of the healthiest ways to handle stress as it channels a lot of raw energy into the strengthening of your own body. Exercise also releases endorphins, feel-good hormones that help the body to better combat the stress hormone cortisol. And regular exercise improves blood flow, respiration, and sleep patterns, which help the body deal with stress.
The exercise doesn’t have to be extreme to count. There’s a reason you feel the urge to pace when you’re anxious — it’s a natural means for the body to let go of energy. Breathing exercises and stretching exercises can have a similar impact.
People have been using art to handle emotions for thousands of years. The process of making something new has been cathartic to many for a variety of reasons. It helps people reconcile what they feel, establish closure with the past, or even communicate ideas that are otherwise difficult to express. Some people prefer to get emotions out through writing, while others might use painting or music. The specific medium doesn’t even matter – just that the person is using their creativity.
One of the most common ways to blend the benefits of creativity and exercise is cooking. Kneading dough requires physical exertion and focus and produces something the entire family can enjoy.
Working on small projects with tangible results can serve two valuable purposes: 1) Completing tasks produces a feeling of accomplishment, boosting positive hormones such as endorphins and dopamine; and 2) It creates a sense of control. During stressful times, this can help a child learn to focus on the things that can be controlled, like their reactions versus the stuff outside of their control, like someone else’s reaction.
Plus, being organized reduces anxiety by reducing the stress caused by a lack of organization. To borrow from the adage, an ounce of prep work is worth a pound of anxiety off of your shoulders.
Unhealthy Ways for Children to Deal with Stress
Children who don’t learn to handle stress in healthy ways tend to turn to unhealthy activities. Risky activities are known to raise adrenaline levels similar to exercise but without the health benefits. Unfortunately, the most common tools of stress relief are drugs and alcohol, which can have severe consequences.
Children often see the adults in their lives have a can of beer or a glass of wine to deal with a stressful day of work. This can give them the illusion that drugs or alcohol are the most efficient means to deal with stress, especially if they do not see the negative sides of struggle with addiction, such as job losses and ruined relationships.
Addressing Drugs or Alcohol
Prevention is the best way to address drug and alcohol use. Being aware of behavior patterns, motivating factors, and your child’s activities can help you stay ahead of the curve. Feeling alone and helpless can cause your child to turn to drugs or alcohol for solace. Open, consistent communication is important to be a shelter for your child rather than another storm for them to face.
Professor of Bangladesh Medical College & Member of National Suicidal Prevention Center