8 Tips on Reducing Stress for Kids
Because many adults have fond memories of carefree childhood days spent roaming the woods with their friends, swimming at the creek, or just hanging out eating ice cream after school, it’s hard for them to picture that a majority of today’s children are as prone to stress as a busy executive.
Pressure from parents, teachers, coaches, and peers can cause children to develop anxiety, to have trouble sleeping, and to turn to unhealthy foods and even alcohol or drugs in an attempt to alleviate their pain. Teaching children healthy, constructive ways to handle stress is essential in today’s busy world.
Here are eight powerful and practical ways to help your child destress and relax in a world that is often overwhelming:
- Resist overscheduling: Many children have nearly every waking moment of their lives scheduled, from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed. School hours, after-school practices or lessons, then dinner and homework leave little to no room for free time just to daydream or relax. Many children are so used to this routine, they don’t realize they are overscheduled. Take a good look at how your child’s day is structured. All children need free time to rest and relax, so began to build this time into your child’s day. Their bodies and their brains will be better for it!
- Make family dinners a habit: Regularly eating dinner with your children is one of the most important things you can do for their physical and emotional health. Adolescents who eat regularly with their families show increased self-esteem, do better in school, and have a much greater chance of not developing obesity in young adulthood.1,2 In addition, families who eat dinner together generally consume healthier foods in the form of more fruits and vegetables and fewer highly sweetened beverages.3 That’s good for everybody!
- Get outside: In our modern world, parents are increasingly reluctant to allow their children time for free, unstructured play out of doors. Much of this reluctance stems from fear of accidents or abduction by a stranger. As a consequence, many children are alienated from the natural world and grow up with an unhealthy fear of being outdoors. There is a growing body of research that clearly demonstrates that children greatly benefit from time outside. Exposure to sunlight and the natural elements benefits children not only physically, but emotionally as well and acts as a powerful buffer to stress.4
- Get a pet: Researchers at the University of Florida were among the first to document the protective effects of pet ownership in children. In a study of children 7 to 12 years of age who underwent a stressful experience, the children who had their dogs present with them had lower levels of stress than the children who were accompanied by a parent or who had no social support at all.5 Pets are wonderful companions. They love unconditionally, teach responsibility, and help children connect with other people. So take a trip to your local rescue organization and bring home a four-legged friend!
- Give your kids some vitamin ZZZZ: Quality sleep is crucial for children’s health. Sleep impacts your child’s mood, affects learning and behavior, and is vital for brain health. When children are chronically stressed, circulating stress hormones like cortisol remain elevated at night, and glucose is also increased, leading to an increased incidence of obesity, diabetes, and even heart disease.6 A regular bedtime, especially on school nights, to ensure your child gets enough sleep is essential. Toddlers (1 to 2 years old) need 11 to 14 hours of sleep each night. Preschoolers (3 to 5 years old) need 10 to 13 hours, school-aged children (6 to 13) should be getting 9 to 11 hours, and teens (14 to 17) function best on 8 to 10 hours a night.7
- Limit screen time: Your child’s developing brain is an extremely sensitive organ, and overexposure to electronic screens in the form of smartphones, tablets, video games, and television can easily overload your child’s sensory system, disrupt your child’s natural biological clock, and lead to depression and sleep disorders.8 In addition, too much screen exposure can increase cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. So put a limit on screen time and don’t allow children to use electronic devices at night before bed. Some clinicians are even recommending an “electronic fast,” the total elimination of all electronic devices for several weeks, in order to reset the child’s nervous system.
- Get up and move: Exercise can not only benefit your child’s cardiovascular system, regular physical activity can also help your child’s body handle stress more efficiently. In a study conducted with 258 8-year-old children in Finland, researchers found that children who had regular moderate or vigorous physical activity responded to a stressful situation with no or a very small increase in cortisol (a stress hormone) compared to children who got less exercise.9 In addition to its powerful stress-fighting ability, exercise helps strengthen the heart and circulatory system, helps reduce blood sugar levels, helps to control weight, makes your child’s bones stronger, and increases levels of serotonin, the “feel-good” chemical the brain releases after vigorous physical activity.9 Soccer anyone?
- Work on yourself: If you are stressed out as a parent, it’s incredibly hard not to pass on the negative effects of that stress to your children. In fact, your ability to handle stress in your own life is a very good predictor of how well you relate to your children as well as how happy your children are. Being a parent can be incredibly satisfying, and at times it can also be extremely stressful. Just be aware that your stress levels, if left unmanaged, could be damaging the health and well-being of your children. So take some time for yourself to get that in check. All of these suggestions aimed at your children are good for you as well!
- Harrison ME et al. Systematic review of the effects of family meal frequency on psychosocial outcomes in youth. Can Fam Physician. 2015;61(2):e96-e106.
- Berge JM et al. The protective role of family meals for youth obesity: 10-year longitudinal associations. J Pediatr. 2015;166(2):296-301.
- Fink SK et al. Family meals and diet quality among children and adolescents in North Carolina. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2014;46(5):418-422.
- Bento G et al. The importance of outdoor play for young children’s healthy development. Porto Biomedical Journal. 2017;2(5):157-160.
- Kertes DA et al. Effect of pet dogs on children’s perceived stress and cortisol stress response. Soc Dev. 2017;26(2):382-401.
- Pervanidou P et al. Metabolic consequences of stress during childhood and adolescence. Metabolism. 2012;61(5):611-619.
- Phruthi S et al. Recommended amount of sleep for pediatric populations: a consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. J Clin Sleep Med. 2016;12(6):785-786.
- Hale L et al. Screen time and sleep among school-aged children and adolescents: A systematic literature review. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 2015, 21, 50-58.
- Martikainen S et al. Higher levels of physical activity are associated with lower hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis reactivity to psychosocial stress in children. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2013;98(4):E619–E627.
Submitted by the Metagenics Marketing Team