Helping Your Child Cope with Stress

Life can be stressful at times, even for kids. Concerns about grades, peer pressure, friend issues, bullying, traumatic events, and more can lead to stress. Some stress can be productive—cortisol, the “stress hormone,” increases blood sugar, metabolism, and memory function, and provides a temporary boost to physical and mental ability. Those brief periods of stress can be productive and help a child be motivated to accomplish tasks that might be a little intimidating.

However, when stressful feelings continue over time, cortisol impairs brain functioning and suppresses the immune system. During childhood when the brain is still connecting the neural circuits for dealing with stress, chronic stress can rewire the brain to become overly reactive or slow to shut down when faced with threats. Chronic stress in childhood can evenincrease the risk of diseases in adulthood.

How to Cope with Stress

Much of how to cope with stress applies to anyone, adults or children.

  • Take care of SELF (Sleep, Exercise, Leisure, and Food)—get plenty of sleep, get some exercise, do something fun and relaxing to take a break, and eat healthy.
  • Talk to others, sharing your problems and how you are feeling and coping.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol—while they may seem to ease stress in the short term, over the long term they create problems that increase stress.
  • Take a break from what’s causing your stress.
  • Recognize when you need more help.

Helping Your Child Cope with Stress

Stress often comes in part from feeling unable to manage what life is giving you, and for children, there are many things that can leave them feeling helpless, as they have less experience in dealing with difficulties. Keep in mind the coping strategies above, and talk with your child to help them to process what is causing their stress. Additional ways you can help your child cope are:

  • Maintain a normal routine—familiarity helps to provide a sense of stability.
  • Talk, listen, and encourage expression. Give your child opportunities to talk, but don’t force them. Listen to what their thoughts, feelings, and worries are, and share some of yours. Keep the lines of communication open, and check in with them to see how they feel after a week, a month, or more.
  • Watch and listen. Be alert for any changes in behavior, including sleeping, eating, and connecting with friends. Even small changes may indicate your child is having trouble dealing with stress.
  • Reassure your child about their safety and well-being, particularly if the stress is caused by a traumatic event.
  • Connect with others—your child’s teachers and other parents may have additional suggestions on how to help your child cope.
  • Promote a growth mindset. If your child is stressed about their grades or school work, developing a growth mindset can help. Research indicatesthat while many students’ stress levels increase after receiving a bad grade, students who believe that intelligence can be developed are more likely to see academic setbacks as temporary, they stress less over a bad grade, and they return to normal stress levels more quickly afterwards.

What Schools Can Do

Teachers and other school personnel see students almost as much as their families during the week, so they may also notice children exhibiting signs of stress. In addition, some student stress may stem from poor academic performance, bullying, or other stressful situations related to school (e.g., worries about safety after news coverage of a school shooting). Here’s how schools can help students cope with stress:

  • Reach out and talk. Create opportunities for students to talk, but don’t force them. Try asking questions like, what do you think about these events, or how do you think these things happen? You can be a model by sharing some of your own thoughts as well as correct misinformation. When children talk about their feelings, it can help them cope and to know that different feelings are normal.
  • Watch and listen. Be alert for any change in behavior. Are students talking more or less? Withdrawing from friends? Acting out? Are they behaving in any way out of the ordinary? These changes may be early warning signs that a student is struggling and needs extra support from the school and family.
  • Maintain normal routines. A regular classroom schedule can provide reassurance and promote a sense of stability and safety.
  • Take care of yourself. You can better support students if you are healthy, coping, and taking care of yourself first.

Resources

If you need to reach out for extra support or immediate help, contact one of the following crisis hotlines:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-888-628-9454 for Spanish-speaking callers)
  • Youth Mental Health Line: 1-888-568-1112
  • Child-Help USA: 1-800-422-4453 (coping with stress)
  • Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990

8 Actions Parents Can Take to End Bullying

It can be difficult as a parent to help your child through being bullied, and even harder when it turns out your child is the bully. Add in cyberbullying, which wasn’t even possible when most of today’s parents were kids, and it can be easy to feel at a loss about what to do.

With recent studies showing that at least half of all children are directly involved in bullying either as the victim, perpetrator, or both, there’s a high likelihood that your child will come in personal contact with bullying. Think Kindnesshas a list of eight actions parents can take to end bullying:

  1. Talk with your kids—every day.
  2. Spend time and volunteer at your school.
  3. Be a good example of kindness.
  4. Learn the signs and symptoms.
  5. Create healthy anti-bully habits early.
  6. Establish household rules about bullying.
  7. Teach your children to be a good witness.
  8. Teach your child about cyberbullying.

The article has additional information on each of these pointsto help you take a pro-active approach to bullying with your child. In addition, your PTA may want to implement PTA’s Connect for Respectprogram at your school. The program provides your PTA with the tools to have a meaningful and productive conversation on bullying with both students and families.

Helping Your Child Deal with Peer Pressure

When your child first heads off to school, you are the most important person in their world and they look to you for guidance. Their teachers in the early grades fill that role as well. But by the time they turn 11, children start caring more about what their other kids think of them than what their parents or other adults think.

As their peers become more and more influential on their lives, some children may struggle with handling that peer pressure effectively.Great Schoolshas six tips to help you help your child resist peer pressureand follow the values your family is trying to instill in them.

  • Don’t overreact.
  • Talk about what makes a true friend.
  • Get to know your child’s friends.
  • Talk about what independence really means.
  • Role play peer pressure.
  • Model saying “No.”

The article has further advice on each of these six points.

Photo © 2013 by Tomunder Creative Commons license.

New Survey Reveals How Teens’ Social Media Experiences

Common Sense Media, a non-profit dedicating to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology, has just released a new report detailing their survey of teenagers and their experiences with social media. The report, Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their Experiences, covers a nationally representative survey of over 1,000 kids ages 13 to 17 regarding their social media experiences and tracks changes from a similar survey done in 2012.

The key findings of the report are:

  1. Social media use among teens has increased dramatically since 2012.
  2. Only a few teens say that using social media has a negative effect on how they feel about themselves; many more say it has a positive effect.
  3. Social media has a heightened role—both positive and negative—in the lives of more vulnerable teens.
  4. Teens’ preferences for face-to-face communication with friends has declined substantially, and their perception of social media’s interference with personal interactions has increased.
  5. Many teens think tech companies manipulate users to spend more time on their devices and say that digital distractions interfere with homework, personal relationships, and sleep.
  6. Teens have a decidedly mixed record when it comes to self-regulating device use.
  7. There has been an uptick in teens’ exposure to racist, sexist, and homophobic content on social media, ranging from an increase of 8 to 12 percentage points.
  8. Some teens have been cyberbullied, including about one in 10 who say their cyberbullying was at least “somewhat” serious.
  9. Social media is an important avenue of creative expression for many teens.

The full reportalso includes useful information on which social media platforms teens use, advice from experts on how to deal with your child’s social media use, and much more. The websitealso provides links to an easily sharable infographic, a summary of the key findings, and a short video on the report.

What PTAs Can Do

The results of this survey provide several ways that PTAs can help families manage their teen’s social media use.