Help Your Tween Handle Stress
How to teach your children effective ways of handling stress
by Dr. Caron Goode
For many people the words childhood and carefree are interchangeable. Lazy summer days, best friends, and Friday night pizza parties are the stuff childhood memories are made of. Unfortunately, so is stress. Stress, the overwhelming feeling of self-doubt in one’s ability to cope, has become as much a part of childhood as Little League.
Children experience stress in different ways during different stages in their development. An elementary age child may complain of stomach aches and headaches. Older children might become irritable or depressed, while teens may rebel. In the case of my daughter, her middle school years were fraught with low self-esteem and sleepless nights.
I began to notice a change in her behavior in seventh grade shortly after she joined the track team. She had always been an active child. She played basketball for a local league and was on the swim team at our neighborhood pool. Therefore, when she tried out for her middle school track team, I wasn’t surprised. At first, she met the challenge of daily practice and Saturday meets with enthusiasm. Towards the middle of the season, however, there was a change in her attitude. Her stories about practice were not as animated as they once were. I had also started to notice dark circles under her eyes. When I asked if everything was alright, her reply was a meek and unconvincing, “Sure.”
Something was off, but she obviously did not want to talk about it and I didn’t want to pressure her. Instead, I watched her closely for any other changes. It was at her meet the following weekend when I noticed something odd. She was not sitting with the girls. She had three friends, Sandra, Molly, and Brittney. The four of them had been friends since elementary school. That day, however, there was no familiar huddle of four. There was a threesome and my daughter hanging on the fringes looking lost. She placed in all of her races, but even that didn’t seem to cheer her up. When we were in the car, I finally asked again if everything was alright. This time, instead of brushing me off, she began to cry.
By the time we arrived home, I had the whole story. My daughter is a natural athlete, and immediately took to track. In the short time she was on the team, she had excelled and bypassed many of the other runners skill wise. This included her three friends that had been on the team a year longer. This fact created an unhealthy competition, which had my daughter tied in knots. She wanted to do her best for herself and her team, but she also wanted her friends. Eventually, after several attempts at reconciliation, she resigned herself to her fate. A fate that included tossing and turning all night and admonishing herself for being such a horrible friend.
I listened intently as she told her story. My heart welled and I too wanted to cry, but I knew that would not help matters. Nor would my other initial response, to call the girls’ mothers and fix the problem. It was up to my daughter to work this out. What I could do was help her figure out how. I asked questions, told her I loved her, and hoped for the best.
One of the greatest challenges all parents face is teaching their children to manage stress effectively. No matter what a child’s age, they watch parents and search their behavior for clues. Therefore, being a good role model is imperative to helping children learn how to manage stress. Other steps include:
- Avoid fixing situations or offering advice. If parents fix everything, either with words or actions, then their children never learn how to handle things for themselves.
- Be a good listener because sometimes just listening and making a child feel truly heard will be enough to relieve a stressful situation.
- Ask questions that encourage a child to think the situation through. Ask a lot of “what if” questions. Then follow up by asking things like, “What’s the next step? or How would you handle that?”
- Encourage children to listen to their thoughts and feelings. When children know how they feel, they are more likely to see the situation and the solution more clearly.
- Help them hear their thoughts and feelings. If a child is unsure of how a stressful situation makes him feel, help him learn to listen to himself by using quiet time or soft music to concentrate.
- Deep breathing is an effective way of handling stress because it promotes feelings of relaxation, which can bring solutions to the forefront.
- Exercise is another way of releasing stress and tension. Have the child walk the dog, stretch, or go out for a run. Any movement he enjoys will help ease stress.
Watching your child suffer the effects of damaging stress is hard. Unfortunately, stress is a part of everyday life. Some people handle it better than others, and it is your job as a parent to teach your child to handle it as best they can. If you teach your children effective ways of handling stress, they will be able to face anything from middle school bullies to corporate executives.
Dr. Caron Goode is the founder of the Academy for Coaching Parents International, a global online school for training successful, parenting coaches in home-based businesses. She is the author of fifteen books, including the international best seller, Kids Who See Ghosts, and the national award-winner Raising Intuitive Children. See and review all of Dr. Goode’s books here. Dr. Goode is also the founder of HeartWise Parent, a learning center for parents and Live-Spirit.com, which provides tools for spiritual living.