It's October, and children have been back in school for a month or more. The beginning of a new school year certainly brings excitement and happiness as kids reconnect with friends, meet teachers, and explore new academic and extracurricular activities. But school can bring increased levels of stress as well, even in grade-school children. Pressure to do well in class, excel in sports, music, or other clubs, and handle the intricacies of peer friendships can result in overwhelmed, stressed-out kids.
Fortunately, most children manage to cope with daily stressors in healthy ways, and get through these challenges just fine. But it's a fact that chronic stress can take a toll on young bodies and minds, causing everything from stomachaches to grumpy moods. Every child needs to learn good stress management strategies in order to be successful in life, and moms can help teach and model these skills. By learning simple, healthy techniques for managing daily stress and pressure when they're young, kids can avoid turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms later on.
Here are a few quick and easy stress-buster ideas to teach your kids:
- Get regular exercise. Stress raises the level of the hormone cortisol, which causes unpleasant symptoms like racing heart, sweaty palms, and shortness of breath. Exercise lowers cortisol and raises the level of other brain chemicals that produce feelings of well-being.
- Spend time every day doing something fun. Read a good book. Listen to music. Daydream. Overscheduled kids are often overstressed kids. A little downtime is not only okay, it's crucial.
- Get adequate sleep and nutrition. Sleep-deprived, sugar-fueled kids can't focus, moderate their moods, or think critically about ways to solve problems.
- Play with a pet. Medical studies have shown that petting a dog or cat can lower blood pressure and heart rate. If your household doesn't include a furry pet, a friend's will do!
- Try some deep breathing. Relaxation exercises are a proven way to reduce the physical and emotional effects of stress. They don't have to be complicated; the easiest technique is to simply take slow, deep breaths to the count of 4, focusing on filling up the lower belly with air and exhaling completely each time. Repeat for 5-10 minutes for maximum effect. Kids of any age can benefit from deep breathing in times of anxiety and stress.
When things get busy this school year and your children seem overstimulated and overstressed, take a few minutes to talk about some of the ideas above. You might even want to institute an after-school or bedtime ritual of listening to quiet music, doing a relaxation exercise, or just talking together about the events of the day as a way to practice good coping skills on a daily basis. It'll be good for your children, and you'll probably feel better too!