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. LebnEncox

    online pharmacy store pharmacy online no prescription Viagra Oral Jelly

    May 9, 2021 at 07:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. perkembangan bayi

    I read this paragraph completely about the difference of latest and earlier
    technologies, it's awesome article.

    May 9, 2021 at 07:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. News

    I'm really loving the theme/design of your site.

    Do you ever run into any browser compatibility problems?
    A small number of my blog readers hae complained abot my website
    not operating correctly in Explorer but looks great in Firefox.
    Do yoou have anyy advice to help fix this issue?

    May 9, 2021 at 09:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. RV Furniture Los Angeles


    May 9, 2021 at 13:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. GtnbCrulk

    viagra boys https://jokviagra.com/ how to use viagra for best results

    May 9, 2021 at 14:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Content Marketing Association

    There is certainly a lot to learn about this issue. I love all the points you made.


    May 9, 2021 at 21:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Internet Marketing Experts Near Me


    May 9, 2021 at 21:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. also on

    Heya! I understand this is somewhat off-topic however I needed to ask.
    Does operating a well-established website such as yours require a large amount of work?
    I am brand new to blogging but I do write in my diary on a daily basis.
    I'd like to start a blog so I can easily share my own experience and feelings online.
    Please let me know if you have any kind of ideas or tips for brand new
    aspiring blog owners. Appreciate it!

    Also visit my website – also on

    May 10, 2021 at 00:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. BbshMile

    viagra review http://loxviagra.com/ – how to take viagra viagra 100mg price

    May 10, 2021 at 00:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Joe Opalicki

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


    May 10, 2021 at 03:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. JebgEncox

    corner drug store http://pharmacylo.com/ india pharmacy mail order

    May 10, 2021 at 10:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Video Marketing Maker

    I’m amazed, I must say. Rarely do I encounter a blog that’s both equally educative and amusing, and let me tell you, you've hit the nail on the head. The issue is something which not enough people are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy that I came across this in my search for something concerning this.


    May 10, 2021 at 15:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. voice to text online

    I'm gone to convey my little brother, that he should also
    pay a visit this web site on regular basis to
    get updated from newest news update.

    May 10, 2021 at 15:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Internet Marketing California

    This is the right web site for everyone who would like to find out about this topic. You know a whole lot its almost tough to argue with you (not that I actually will need to…HaHa). You certainly put a brand new spin on a topic that's been discussed for years. Great stuff, just great!


    May 10, 2021 at 16:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Internet Marketing Services California


    May 10, 2021 at 17:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Social Media Marketing Management

    You're so cool! I don't suppose I've read through anything like this before. So wonderful to discover someone with original thoughts on this topic. Seriously.. thanks for starting this up. This site is something that's needed on the internet, someone with a little originality!


    May 10, 2021 at 20:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. LebnEncox

    cvs online pharmacy http://xlnpharmacy.com/ Moduretic

    May 10, 2021 at 23:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Content Marketing Brea

    Aw, this was a really nice post. Finding the time and actual effort to generate a very good article… but what can I say… I put things off a lot and don't manage to get nearly anything done.


    May 11, 2021 at 00:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Google Marketing Quotes


    May 11, 2021 at 00:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Content Marketing Studio


    May 11, 2021 at 01:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. FmrfEncox

    paypal cialis online http://cialisee.com/ buy cialis using paypal

    May 11, 2021 at 03:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Local Marketing Center

    Hi, I do think this is an excellent site. I stumbledupon it 😉 I will return once again since I saved as a favorite it. Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and continue to help other people.


    May 11, 2021 at 05:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Digital Marketing Company

    Saved as a favorite, I like your web site!


    May 11, 2021 at 07:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Local Marketing Pros


    May 11, 2021 at 11:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Concrete Contractor Lincoln NE

    I do consider all the ideas you've offered in your post.
    They're really convincing and can certainly work. Nonetheless, the posts are very short for
    newbies. May you please prolong them a little from next time?
    Thank you for the post.

    Here is my web page :: Concrete Contractor Lincoln NE

    May 11, 2021 at 17:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. AnooEncox

    instructions on viagra use http://llviagra.com/ why cant you drink grapefruit juice with viagra

    May 11, 2021 at 19:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Jason Cassarubias

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


    May 11, 2021 at 19:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. RV Steps California

    Spot on with this write-up, I honestly believe that this website needs far more attention. I’ll probably be back again to read more, thanks for the information!


    May 11, 2021 at 21:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. remodel motorhome interior


    May 11, 2021 at 23:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. FmrfEncox

    cheap cialis online generic https://cialisee.com/ costa rica cialis sale

    May 12, 2021 at 00:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. togel china

    Hi! Quick question that's completely off topic.
    Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly?
    My weblog looks weird when browsing from my iphone4.
    I'm trying to find a theme or plugin that might be able to resolve this problem.
    If you have any suggestions, please share. Thanks!

    Feel free to surf to my site: togel china

    May 12, 2021 at 04:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. nearest rv repair


    May 12, 2021 at 05:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. rv and camper repair near me


    May 12, 2021 at 05:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. nearest trailer repair shop

    Very good blog post. I definitely appreciate this website. Stick with it!


    May 12, 2021 at 08:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. RV Interior Designer Riverside

    After going over a few of the blog posts on your blog, I seriously appreciate your technique of blogging. I bookmarked it to my bookmark website list and will be checking back in the near future. Please visit my web site too and tell me what you think.


    May 12, 2021 at 13:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. rv remodel supplies

    This is a topic that is close to my heart... Best wishes! Exactly where are your contact details though?


    May 12, 2021 at 17:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. rv couches


    May 12, 2021 at 18:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. GtnbCrulk

    walgreens viagra http://jokviagra.com/ – viagra 100mg buy cheap viagra

    May 12, 2021 at 20:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. RebfZisse

    cialis superactive https://rcialisgl.com/ – black cialis mexico cialis on line pharm

    May 12, 2021 at 22:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. rv glass repair near me

    After exploring a handful of the blog articles on your website, I honestly like your way of blogging. I saved as a favorite it to my bookmark webpage list and will be checking back in the near future. Please check out my web site too and tell me what you think.


    May 12, 2021 at 23:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Concrete Contractor Lincoln NE

    Actually no matter if someone doesn't be aware of afterward its up to other people
    that they will help, so here it occurs.

    Feel free to visit my webpage; Concrete Contractor Lincoln NE

    May 13, 2021 at 02:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Sprinter Van Body Repair


    May 13, 2021 at 05:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. class c renovation


    May 13, 2021 at 09:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. how to repair rv blinds

    You should be a part of a contest for one of the finest sites online. I most certainly will recommend this blog!


    May 13, 2021 at 10:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. rv air conditioner service near me


    May 13, 2021 at 11:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Sprinter Van Brake Repair Near Me


    May 13, 2021 at 14:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. RV Mattresses Los Angeles

    Can I just say what a comfort to find an individual who genuinely knows what they're talking about on the web. You certainly understand how to bring an issue to light and make it important. A lot more people ought to check this out and understand this side of the story. I can't believe you are not more popular because you most certainly have the gift.


    May 13, 2021 at 14:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. rv renovation companies near me

    Good day! I simply want to offer you a huge thumbs up for the excellent info you have got right here on this post. I will be returning to your site for more soon.


    May 13, 2021 at 15:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. RV Alignment Los Angeles

    Nice post. I learn something new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon everyday. It's always useful to read articles from other authors and use a little something from other web sites.


    May 13, 2021 at 18:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Sprinter Side Door Lock Repair


    May 13, 2021 at 19:33 | 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 JvcxCrulk


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.