How to stop your kids from stressing
Children can develop coping skills by handling some stress. Experts advocate maintaining kids' routines during stressful times.
February 16th, 2012
09:43 AM ET

How to stop your kids from stressing

Editor's note: CNN contributor Amanda Enayati ponders the theme of seeking serenity: the quest for well-being and life balance in stressful times.

There is a good chance that my children (and yours) are stressed out on a daily basis.

Not necessarily from catastrophic burdens such as death, abuse or abandonment (though far too many children are dealing with those as well), but from the slow boil of everyday anxieties - a swell of unrelenting childhood stress that, in the long term, may bury our kids good and well in a tsunami of serious health problems.

More, faster, better

High on the list of stressors is the pressure many parents place on their kids: the mentality that the earlier a child does something - walks, talks, reads chapter books, excels in advanced robotics for kindergartners - the better.

“Competitive anxieties do get induced in a lot of children because they’re induced in a lot of parents,” says Jay Belsky, an internationally recognized expert in the field of child development and family studies and a professor at the University of California, Davis.

“There has been a sea change, a cultural shift,” says Denise Clark Pope, senior lecturer at Stanford University’s School of Education and co-founder of Challenge Success, a project that aims to reduce unhealthy pressure on young people. “We live in a society where there is a premium on performance as opposed to mastery or effort; on grades and scores over engagement; on speed and outer appearances over intrinsic motivations.

“Many parents are getting caught up in the craziness, in the ‘more is better’ and ‘faster is better’ mind-set. Children end up overscheduled and in and out of schools and classes, with very little time left over, including for sleep.”

Strategies for stress relief

The experts Belsky, Pope and Parul Chandra, head teacher at Bing Nursery School, Stanford’s laboratory preschool - favor a handful of strategies that have proven effective in helping children reduce, prevent or cope with stress.

Allow for playtime, downtime, family time. A young child’s job is to play.

Pope says, “Research shows that playtime, downtime and family time are major protective factors in increasing health and well-being, and lowering stress in children.”

Children also need to feel part of an unconditionally loving family.

“You can’t have the benefits of family without spending time together. And it doesn’t matter how you define family; it doesn’t have to be biological. What does matter is literally sitting down, having meals and doing activities together,” she says.

Studies shows that family meals are the single strongest predictor of higher achievement and fewer behavioral issues for children between 3 and 12. “That’s 25 minutes, five times a week.”

Children need time to reflect, to rejuvenate, to rest, Pope says. “And we include sleep in that because lack of sleep is correlated to higher rates of depression and anxiety.”

Distract. Belsky finds that distraction can be an effective strategy for both younger and older children.

“It’s really a matter of turning their attention elsewhere, away from what’s stressing them,” he says.

Early on, adults can help children regulate their attention. Eventually, children will develop the skill themselves and learn to place their focus away from what’s bothering them.

Problem-solve. “We as adults tell children how to solve problems,” Chandra says. “But problem-solving with them instead of for them is very important. You want children to think about what it is they are going through. Have them explain it to you. And then articulate it back so that you can be sure that you are understanding correctly and that you’re both on the same page.”

Ask open-ended questions such as “What do you think may help?” Having children brainstorm a list of possibilities, making them aware of strategies they have used in the past and getting them to come up with solutions can all be hugely empowering for a child.

Keep routines. Chandra advocates maintaining children’s routines during particularly stressful times. “It’s important that they don’t feel like their whole lives are topsy-turvy, that they have parts of the day to look forward to living in the moment and just being a child.”

Watch, listen, communicate, reassure, validate. Listen and watch for atypical behaviors in children, suggests Chandra. The younger the children, the harder it will be for them to talk about what they are feeling.

Pay attention to your child’s stories. Know that their dramatic play is a window into what they’re thinking, going through and worrying about.

Validate children’s feelings. Tell them, "I know how that feels" instead of "you shouldn’t be feeling that way.” Validating is important because it alleviates a lot of stress. But also guide children toward empathizing with others. Ask, “How do you think the other person feels?”

Communicate with your child. Talk about your most aggravating times. Bring up things that caused you stress and how you resolved these problems.

Reassure children that they will be OK.

“There is a whole palate of feelings between mad and sad," Chandra says. "Stress is always going to be there, but you have to give children the skills and words to be able to talk about it. If you don’t, behaviors will come out later and you will wonder where they came from! But acting out usually represents months and years of incidents and feelings that haven’t been discussed - layer upon layer upon layer.”

Let children be children. All three experts warn against treating children like smaller versions of adults. “Physiologically, kids are not mini-adults,” Pope says, “and the idea of miniaturizing the adult world is a huge problem. It can lead to things like inappropriate use of media, inappropriate ways of dressing and inappropriate things being put on children’s shoulders.”

Chandra advises, “Be mindful of conversations and things that children can pick up on at home. They pick up more than we think they do. And they if do happen to overhear something, explain that it’s an adult agenda, that their parents will take care of it.

“Children are innately wired to be happy people, and they tend to live in the moment. We as adults have so much to learn from them.”

A life with no stress?

Belsky says, “Look, no life is going to be stress-free. There is something to be said for learning to cope with stress that is in your capacity to cope with.”

Permitting our children the opportunity to experience some stress and enabling them to deal with it creates coping capacity. When you are building muscle, you shouldn’t be lifting too many weights. But the right amount can strain your muscles enough to increase strength. Coping is the same way. If it’s the right amount, children build capacity.

Family’s values

Pope recommends that families sit down and take a hard look at the value systems driving them. “Ask the big questions: How are you, your school and your child defining success? It is often that definition, that value system, that is driving the unhealthy stress.”

Work together to write a mission statement that articulates the family’s core values, Pope suggests. Who are you as a family? Where are you going? And who are you not? A lot of important parenting choices are made on the fly from your gut.

“You ask people what they want for their children and most will say, ‘A happy, healthy, self-sufficient person who gives back to society.’ But if you work backward from that, it’s not about the overscheduled, gratified 8-year-old. We are talking about the long term here.”

Pope adds, “And even if that train has already left the station, it’s not too late. It’s never too late! Put your stake in the ground, abide by it and live your values.”

soundoff (1,009 Responses)
  1. Kristel Bayouth

    Right here is the perfect blog for anyone who would like to understand this topic. You understand so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I really would want toÖHaHa). You certainly put a new spin on a topic which has been written about for decades. Wonderful stuff, just wonderful!

    June 10, 2021 at 19:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Don Aarant


    June 10, 2021 at 19:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Daren Curie


    June 10, 2021 at 23:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. rv repair


    June 11, 2021 at 03:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Elias Dockter


    June 11, 2021 at 05:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Val Bordges


    June 11, 2021 at 06:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Elliot Enkerud

    Everything is very open with a really clear explanation of the issues. It was definitely informative. Your website is useful. Thanks for sharing!


    June 11, 2021 at 06:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Ted Faley


    June 11, 2021 at 07:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. rv repair shops near me

    Having read this I thought it was rather informative. I appreciate you spending some time and effort to put this short article together. I once again find myself spending a significant amount of time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!


    June 11, 2021 at 12:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. restaurants near me

    Very nice article. I absolutely love this website. Stick with it!


    June 11, 2021 at 13:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. rv repair los angeles


    June 11, 2021 at 13:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. RV Fabrication California

    Greetings! Very useful advice in this particular article! It's the little changes that produce the largest changes. Many thanks for sharing!


    June 11, 2021 at 17:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Mb Sprinter Repair Shop

    When I initially commented I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I recieve four emails with the same comment. Is there an easy method you are able to remove me from that service? Thanks!


    June 11, 2021 at 17:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Coachmen Van Repair Shop Near Me


    June 11, 2021 at 17:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Repair Shops Near Me


    June 11, 2021 at 19:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. orange county rv

    The next time I read a blog, Hopefully it won't disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, Yes, it was my choice to read through, however I genuinely believed you'd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could possibly fix if you weren't too busy seeking attention.


    June 11, 2021 at 21:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Dannie Stickels

    This was great! I would like you to clean up all this spam though


    June 12, 2021 at 02:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Transport Van Repair Shop Near Me


    June 12, 2021 at 04:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. RV Tires Riverside

    I need to to thank you for this wonderful read!! I certainly enjoyed every bit of it. I have you book-marked to check out new stuff you postÖ


    June 12, 2021 at 04:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Sprinter Rv Repair Near Here


    June 12, 2021 at 04:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Sprinter Tcu Repair

    I really like it when people get together and share views. Great website, stick with it!


    June 12, 2021 at 05:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Christiane Polinsky


    June 12, 2021 at 12:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Freddie Xander


    June 12, 2021 at 12:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Dwight Buba

    Itís hard to find knowledgeable people for this topic, but you sound like you know what youíre talking about! Thanks

    June 12, 2021 at 12:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. hardware near me


    June 12, 2021 at 14:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. MileSwa

    cialis super active cheap get generic cialis overnight cialis no prescription

    June 12, 2021 at 14:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. chicken near me

    Itís hard to find educated people about this topic, but you seem like you know what youíre talking about! Thanks


    June 12, 2021 at 15:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Jay Fode

    Have you ever heard of second life (sl for short). It is basically a online game where you can do anything you want. SL is literally my second life (pun intended lol). If you would like to see more you can see these sl authors and blogs


    June 12, 2021 at 16:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. sams club near me


    June 12, 2021 at 17:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. delivery food near me

    Excellent post! We will be linking to this particularly great article on our site. Keep up the good writing.


    June 12, 2021 at 17:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. ZisseVed

    should cialis be taken on an empty stomach cialis professional vs cialis cialis sell

    June 12, 2021 at 21:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. early voting near me


    June 12, 2021 at 21:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. applebee's near me

    Oh my goodness! Incredible article dude! Thank you, However I am experiencing troubles with your RSS. I donít understand the reason why I cannot subscribe to it. Is there anybody else having identical RSS problems? Anyone that knows the answer will you kindly respond? Thanks!!


    June 12, 2021 at 21:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. tires near me


    June 12, 2021 at 22:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. airbnb near me

    Good info. Lucky me I recently found your website by chance (stumbleupon). I've bookmarked it for later!


    June 13, 2021 at 01:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Cami Kraatz

    This time we use stainless steel signals.


    June 13, 2021 at 02:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Layne Zager

    I don't know about you people but I infatuated with airplanes. I have a friend in highschool that loves airplanes, so here are some airplane related stuff I don't know about you guys but I love airplanes. I had a friend in highschool that loved airplanes, so here are some airplane related stuff https://www.airlinereporter.com/2008/07/british-airways-to-merge-with-iberia/


    June 13, 2021 at 02:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. EncoxAni

    xanax from canadian pharmacy Cardizem best drugstore face moisturizer

    June 13, 2021 at 04:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. EncoxGtv

    canadian pharmacy king prescription drugs memory loss Calan

    June 13, 2021 at 05:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. car rentals near me


    June 13, 2021 at 05:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. appliance store near me


    June 13, 2021 at 05:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. circle k near me


    June 13, 2021 at 06:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. chinese buffet near me

    That is a very good tip particularly to those fresh to the blogosphere. Simple but very precise informationÖ Appreciate your sharing this one. A must read article!


    June 13, 2021 at 07:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. taco bell near me

    The next time I read a blog, I hope that it does not disappoint me as much as this particular one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, nonetheless I truly thought you would probably have something interesting to talk about. All I hear is a bunch of complaining about something that you could fix if you weren't too busy seeking attention.


    June 13, 2021 at 08:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. hyundai dealership near me


    June 13, 2021 at 08:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. https://www.songmanhits.com

    Best view i have ever seen !


    June 13, 2021 at 11:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. ZisseVed

    cialis pastillas how do i get viagra or cialis cialis prices walmart

    June 13, 2021 at 13:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. EncoxDev

    online pharmacy onlinepharmacytabs24 com cheap scripts pharmacy

    June 13, 2021 at 14:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. food open near me


    June 13, 2021 at 14:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. boats for sale near me

    Next time I read a blog, I hope that it won't disappoint me just as much as this particular one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read through, however I actually believed you would have something helpful to say. All I hear is a bunch of crying about something you can fix if you were not too busy seeking attention.


    June 13, 2021 at 15:24 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Leave a Reply to chloroquine phosphate generic


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.