Stressbusters for Children
Here's our checklist for minimizing your child's stress load. This list will work for both young children and adolescents, and should assist you in taking some concrete steps toward enhancing your child's overall quality of life. For a full discussion of the sources of childhood stress, read the article posted on our website entitled "Assessing Childhood Stress".
#1 Regular Routine
Establish a regular schedule for daily meals, bedtime, homework, hygiene, and play. Setting up a structured routine for the day assists children in fulfilling their dependency needs by giving them something they can count on while also allowing them to develop good habits. Some flexibility is fine and necessary at times, but your child will feel more secure with regularity and routine. Additionally, you will be helping to develop his/her skills in future planning and anticipation.
#2 Enough Sleep
Be sure that your child gets enough sleep everyday. The recommended amount of time is between 9 and 9 ½ hours for both school-aged children and adolescents. Preschool children need closer to 10 hours. Sleep deprivation over time has serious psychological and physical consequences.
#3 Avoid Overstimulation
Avoid overstimulating your child. Overstimulation comes in many forms. Tension within the family resulting in excessive arguing and/or yelling, television programs with violent or sexual content, too much activity without balanced amounts of rest, or simply overeating can all be sources of overstimulation.
#4 Moderate Extracurricular Activities
Extracurricular activities are great, but too many of them can be very stressful. Help your child choose one or two at the most, depending on the amount of time involved. Adolescents may be involved in more, however, only if managed easily and with a high level of enjoyment. Extracurricular activities should not interfere with academic performance, nor should they become a source of daily stress and conflict.
#5 Provide "Down Time"
Your child needs a certain amount of "down time" on a daily basis. The amount will depend on his or her temperament. As a rule, more introverted children need more down time. Down time consists of having time allotted where nothing is scheduled. It may mean tinkering alone in one's room, sitting around and talking, or just lying on the floor and day dreaming. By the way, adults need daily down time also.
#6 Physical Activity
Physical activity is a must for all children, especially during the elementary school years. If your child's school doesn't have a full program of physical education, be sure that you supplement it with some type of physical activity. Also, make sure that what you choose is enjoyable. Playing outside works fine, as does playing some sort of sport. Go easy on workout programs for young children unless done in conjunction with some sort of lessons such as dance, karate, swimming, etc.
#7 Healthy Eating Habits
Regular healthy meals based on good nutrition cannot be stressed enough. Three meals a day with two snack times is preferable. Plenty of fruits and vegetables, adequate proteins, and whole grain foods are best. Breakfast is a must. Be careful with the intake of soda, sugar, and overly processed foods.
#8 Assess Family Relations
Keep a mental check on family relations. How are you and your spouse getting along? How are your kids relating to each other? Is everyone getting enough attention, and does everyone feel they have a positive impact on the family? Remember that marital strife can be one of the most difficult sources of stress for children. If you are having ongoing marital problems or other serious family problems, seek professional counseling.
#9 Check Parental Stress
Parental stress is pretty hard to avoid, but keep in mind that children generally soak up their parents' moods and tension. Develop your own stress reduction program if you see that your stress is adding to your children's stress. There are a number of good resources available to assist with stress reduction. Above all, don't use your children as a sounding board. Seek adult friendships and/or relationships for emotional support.
#10 Know Developmental Stage
Take into consideration your child's current developmental stage and be sure you know what kinds of tasks he or she is working on. Knowing these developmental challenges provides an inside track to understanding exactly what kinds of internal problems your child may be dealing with as well as how they can be addressed.
#11 Make Daily Conversation a Habit
Take time for daily conversation with your child. This should be non-pressured, non-disciplinary conversation that is used to allow your child to express his or her feelings about any and all subjects. You will learn more at this time than almost any other, and further will establish a regular method for enhancing and building your relationship with your child.
#12 Keep Track of Peer Relationships
Know what's going on with peer relationships. Depending on the age of your child, peer relationships can have a profound effect on your child's emotional, academic, and social functioning. Use your talk time to find out what kinds of peer problems your child might be having, and then help them problem-solve.