How to help kids manage stress
March 16, 2015
By Dr Ash Nayate, Clinical Neuropsychologist, Guest Blogger
Stress mangement can be a challenge for many people, but particularly for children and teens. This is partly due to relative immaturity in their cognition, which means they don’t have the same levels of reasoning, judgement and impulse control as most adults. So, when faced with a stressful situation, children and teens will sometimes default to the fastest method of dealing with that stress – even if that method is unresourceful. They may lash out at others, withdraw from family and friends, use alcohol, play video games for long hours, or even endlessly surf the internet.
Some children simply don’t know how to manage stress effectively. After all, if they could do better, they would.
Like most new skills, young people learn how to manage stress by observing the adults in their world. Generally, parents are their first role models. Once a child enters school, the focus expands to include teachers, peers, and celebrities (e.g. sport stars, musicians, actors).
If we want to explore why young people act in certain ways when stressed, it could be argued that we should first consider the stress management behaviours of the adults in their lives.
It’s a tough question, but one we should ask ourselves: How do we manage stressful situations? How many of us can honestly say we manage stress resourcefully? The number of unresourceful addictions and behaviours in our society – alcohol, nicotine, food, gambling, violence – to name a few, is surely a sign that a large number of adults also need support to help them manage stressful situations.
Many of us teach strategies that will help to support kids, like deep breathing, visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, meditation and mindfulness, affirmations or mantras. However, we often do not find the time to practice these techniques ourselves. This is vital if we wish to effectively support kids.
Knowledge and explanations are not enough. Young people don’t always understand or care about what we say, but they watch what we do. We are role models.
It is important for the adults in young people’s lives to manage stress well. The goal isn’t perfection, since that’s unrealistic. However, young people need to observe us managing stress in a healthy and sustainable way. They need to see that stress is a part of everyday life. Even more importantly, they need to see that we too struggle and make mistakes.
We can’t lecture kids into managing stress resourcefully, but we can be leaders. We can be empowering role models.
So let’s all make an effort to get better at handling stress. I suggest we make the daily commitment to practice stress management strategies, explore what works best for us, be open to feedback if something isn’t working, and share our insights with the young people in our lives. In this way we can show them that we’re committed to becoming better versions of ourselves, and inspire them to manage stress resourcefully.
Dr. Ash Nayate is a clinical neuropsychologist with expertise in behavioural interventions and over a decade of experience in the health and developmental fields. She works closely with families and educators to improve wellbeing and resilience in young people. Ash is the founder of Revolution Me – Creating tomorrow’s leaders www.revolutionme.com.au and can be contacted at email@example.com.
Note from Murray Evely and Zoe Ganim Psych4Schools Psychologists
Dealing with the demands of working in a school can be very stressful. There are, however, some things you can do to relieve the stress you face daily. Looking after yourself is all about creating a good balance in your life. It involves using some time just for you, to do those things that make you feel good. For further information see the free Psych4Schools ebooklet, Looking after yourself.