The stresses that children experience today can quickly pile on as daily homework, school projects, sports competitions and family expectations weigh them down. With overloaded schedules and big ambitions for college scholarships, childhood years are becoming less about just being a kid and more about dealing with all of the pressures to perform your best in all areas of your life.
“Kids definitely feel more pressure today than they did before from their parents, school and other family members,” says Natasha Williams, massage therapist at Elements. “If kids are good at something and their families realize it at an early age, some parents then put a lot of stress on those kids to do well and keep up the gift they were given. I think this leads to kids not being able to truly enjoy what they’re good at now because parents have the tendency to push them more than they should.”
To help lighten the load of stress that children experience at home and throughout their daily lives, it’s important for parents to be aware of the signs of stress and implement healthy lifestyle habits to give even the busiest kids time to relax, unwind and just be a kid.
Identifying Signs of Stress in Your Child
As a parent, you always want to do your best to protect your child from negative experiences. But when it comes to stress there will always be daily internal and external influences present that can add extra pressure to your children’s lives.
While stress may not always be a bad thing if it encourages and motivates a child to tackle a challenging task or experience, it’s important for parents to keep tabs on whether situations or events are causing undo stress and overwhelming feelings in their children. The American Psychological Association offers parents the following tips to help recognize stressful signs and behavior in your children.
- Be Aware of Negative Behavior Changes: Common changes can include irritability, moodiness, withdrawing from activities, complaining about school, being worried, crying, unusual sleeping and eating behaviors.
- Know that Feeling Sick can be Caused by Stress: Headaches and stomachaches before certain events or situations can signal stress in children if they’re otherwise healthy.
- Take Note on How Your Child Interacts with Others: If a child starts acting out or behaving differently at school, during sports or at a friend’s house, stress may be a driving factor for the change in behavior.
- Listen for Key Words that Describe Stress: Kids may not always know what it means to be stressed so they may use other words like worried, confused, annoyed or angry to express feelings of distress.
- Offer and Ask for Support: Keeping the lines of communication open between you and your children are important to helping them deal with the stressful situations they face on a daily basis. But, if stress is quickly taking over your child’s life, make sure to seek help from a professional who can help with developing strategies and techniques to overcome the difficult situations that can be fueled by a stressful lifestyle.
“From my personal experience, my four-year-old son really gets frustrated easier than he normally would when he’s feeling stressed out,” shares Williams. “If kids get cranky and tired easier that’s a good indication that they’re irritated or stressed about something. If my son is a little irritated then I just ask him if he’s all right and touch base with him about what he’s feeling.”
Let Kids Be Kids
Times have changed for kids over the years. But that doesn’t mean that the basic concept of letting kids be kids is an outdated theory. In fact, it is even more relevant today for parents to remember that kids are only young once so it’s important to encourage them to stick to the basics of playing, running around and growing their imaginations as only can be done without the distractions of constant technology, screens and other attention-robbing devices.
Williams also encourages parents to take a step back and reflect on the happiness of their children and whether they truly enjoy the activities they are involved in.
“Having fun should be the number one priority for kids and their parents,” advises Williams. “A lot of people who put a lot of pressure on their kids don’t realize that they’re really stressing them out. As long as kids are having fun playing sports or doing an activity, they shouldn’t be worried about wining or stressing out about doing well.”
Relieve Daily Stresses with Scheduled Downtime
Just like adults, children need regular breaks from their busy school and extracurricular activities in order to relax, recharge and return to a more stress-free environment. Instead of scheduling trips and events during school breaks, make it a point as a family to stay home for a day every now and again without anything planned.
Letting your children hang out, play with their toys, kick a ball around in the backyard or just spend time with their siblings and neighborhood friends allows kids’ brains time to unwind for the day and recuperate from their busy daily schedules.
“I believe kids today are more stressed out then they were in past generations because back then it was all about playing and just being a kid,” explains Williams. “Now, there’s a bunch of things in school and life that parents put a lot of pressure on their kids about. It’s important for parents to keep in mind that whatever their kids are doing, they should be having fun with it. Always put that first.”
Williams also suggests that parents bring their kids in for regular 30-minute massages to help children feel relief from the mental and physical stresses of school, sports and family. Williams provides massages to kids who play football and need muscle relief from putting their bodies through rigorous training. She also can help children relax and unwind with a massage that focuses on relieving common tension that kids can carry in their upper back, neck and shoulders.
Parents can help make their children’s lives more fun, fulfilling and less stressful by not only being aware of how stress can affect your children, but also by making sure that kids are given the time and opportunities to play without a purpose, grow their imagination and have fun. Take a break for your kid’s sake and the whole family can reap the benefits of spending time together unrushed and stress-free.