5 ways to help your child cope with stress

Published on Wednesday, 03 June 2020
Last updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2020

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COVID-19 threw a curve ball into our usual way of life, and children are not immune to the worry, stress and unsettledness caused by this pandemic and other destabilising events.

Youngsters are keenly aware of changes to family routines and social interactions. They pick up on pressures being felt by parents. And they absorb adult news and information.

With all this in mind, it’s natural for children to feel stressed about this year’s events and their place in the world.

The experts at Emerging Minds say that children may respond to this stress in different ways, ‘Such as being more clingy, anxious, withdrawn, angry or agitated,’ and while one child might have trouble sleeping, or wet their bed, another might be acting ‘business-as-usual.’

In any event, it’s important that you support your child to help them feel more grounded. Here are 5 ways to help your child cope with stress in unsettling times.

  1. Give them extra time and attention

Comforting cuddles and meaningful moments are a big part of parenting, and your love and attention are especially important when times are tough.

To help your child deal with stress, Emerging Minds recommends that you:

  • Respond to their reactions in a supportive way
  • Listen to their concerns
  • Give them extra love and attention
  • Speak kindly to them and
  • Provide reassurance.

Although it might feel like there are too few hours in the day and too many commitments to balance, it’s vital that you bond as parent and child, and make time to share concerns and special moments.

It can also help to connect with other important people in their lives. You could schedule a call or visit with a relative or family friend to share the love and check in with their support network.

  1. Keep to predictable routines and schedules

Changes to home routines, working arrangements and child care may be unavoidable, but try to follow your regular routines as much as possible (or create new ones) to help your child feel grounded and relaxed.

Young children thrive on routine and are reassured by predictability, so they’ll find comfort in consistent wake times, play times, mealtimes, quiet times, bedtimes and so on.

Brit + Co suggests that you create a basic daily schedule that everyone can see (using pictures, not words, for young children). As well as including daily tasks and usual activities, this is a chance to introduce new family rituals and bonding experiences (like ‘Games Hour’ or ‘Art Afternoon’).

Ensure there are lots of opportunities to play and relax, and when it comes to meal times, clinical psychologist, Mirae J. Fornander recommends that your family eats together whenever possible because this boosts communication, supports good nutrition and increases wellbeing.

  1. Engage your child physically and mentally

Children learn through play, and it’s important to flex your child’s body and mind to help them think positive thoughts and feel better.

Physical activities are a fun way to enhance your child’s mood, and pursuits like kids’ yoga, dancing, obstacle courses, sing-a-longs, backyard games and family nature walks can all help to ease their worries and give them some feel-good endorphins.

Mindfulness is another way that you can help your child change their headspace for the better.

The Child Mind Institute describes mindfulness as, ‘A meditation practice that begins with paying attention to breathing in order to focus on the here and now – not what might have been or what you’re worried could be.’

It can help children as young as two cope with stress, and here are six mindfulness exercises that your family could try:

  • Ask your child to notice five things they can see, hear or feel through touch
  • Take 10 deep breaths together
  • Get them to ‘drop anchor,’ which involves standing with their feet apart and pushing down through their feet to feel the ground steady
  • Get them to draw their emotions (e.g. happy, disappointed, silly, scared, angry)
  • Take one mindful bite, which means taking a nibble of a small piece of food and chewing very slowly, thinking about how it feels and tastes and
  • Playing the silence game, which involves staying quiet and still for one minute, then asking your child what they heard or saw in that time.
  1. Explain the facts

Pandemics, natural disasters and other unsettling events generate a lot of news and raise serious questions.

Misinformation, information overload and grown-up content can all have a negative effect on your child’s psyche, so the experts recommend that you explain things in a clear, factual and age-appropriate way to allay your child’s concerns.

Using words and explanations they can understand, Emerging Minds suggests that you:

  • Provide facts about what has happened
  • Explain the current situation
  • Give your child clear information about risk reduction, e.g. talking about handwashing hygiene and cough etiquette and
  • Provide information about what could happen in a reassuring way.

Answer any questions your child has, and tailor news consumption to your child’s age. Though older children and teens can consume news in moderation, Ms Fornander says you can shield your younger child from adult information by reading or listening to news privately using headphones or individual devices.

  1. Monitor and minimise your own stress

Children take a lot of cues from their parents, so try to stay calm and relaxed yourself. Different things work for different people, and you might find it helpful to meditate, go to bed early, start a good book, talk to friends or family, go for a run or revise the family budget with your partner.

If you’re worried that your child is very anxious, or are feeling very stressed yourself, then remember that help is at hand. Depending on where you live, there are parent helplines, mental health websites and health professionals available to give advice and support.

You’re not alone and we hope the above pointers help your family cope with the extraordinary events of 2020 and any bumps in the road ahead.


Emerging Minds

The Conversation

The Child Mind Institute

Brit + Co

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