Recognizing and Managing Stress

Stress can be both positive – preparing for school graduation, or negative – dealing with the death of a loved one. Stress is a condition that is often characterized by symptoms of physical or emotional tension such as irritability, loss of appetite, sleep difficulties or crying. It is a reaction to a situation where a person feels threatened or anxious. For children, simply the loss of the regular routine of the school year can be stressful, even if the days are filled with fun activities such as camps or vacations. Similar coping tips apply to families whether they are helping a child work through positive stress or something more traumatic.

May is Mental Health Month, which according to Mental Health America “began in 1949 to raise awareness of mental health conditions and mental wellness for all.”
It’s natural for children to worry, especially when scary or stressful events happen in their lives. Talking with children about these stressful events when they happen, and monitoring what children watch or hear about the events, can help put frightening information into a more balanced context. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers parents these suggestions to help children through their questions:

耀 Reach out and talk. Create opportunities to have your children talk, but do not force them. Tell your children you are there to listen to their thoughts and feelings. It is important for children to feel like they can share their feelings and to know that their fears and worries are understandable.

耀 Express yourself. Your children may be feeling different emotions at different times. Sadness. Anger. Fear. Confusion. These feelings are normal reactions to stressful events. Encourage your children to appropriately express how he or she feels. Acknowledge that you may have these feelings too, and model good coping for your children.

耀 Watch and listen. Be alert for any change in behavior. Are children sleeping more or less? Are they withdrawing from friends or family? Are they behaving in any way out of the ordinary? Any changes in behavior, even small changes, may be a red flag that the child is having trouble coming to terms with the event.

耀 Reassure. Stressful events can challenge a child’s sense of physical and emotional safety and security. Take opportunities to reassure your child about his or her safety and well-being and discuss ways that you, the school, and the community are taking steps to keep them safe.

耀 Share information with other parents. Get to know your children’s friends and their parents. Make an on-going effort to check in and talk to other parents about any issues or stress. You don’t have to deal with problems alone-it is often helpful for parents, schools, and health professionals to work together in providing support to and in ensuring the well-being of children in stressful times.

耀 Stay Connected. After a stressful event, it is easy to pull away from those close to you. Make sure that you are setting aside time to spend time with those who are important to you. Consider planning fun activities with your child to facilitate staying connected.

耀 Keep it going. Ask your children how they feel about the event in a week, then in a month and so on. Each child has his or her own way of coping under stressful situations. The best thing you can do as a parent is to listen to your children and allow them to express their concerns and fears.

This article was adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Division of Violence Prevention