Published March 2, 2022
Have you noticed any changes in your child’s behavior recently? Maybe they seem irritable. Maybe they can’t sleep. Maybe they’ve lost their appetite. As The Mayo Clinic explains, these are just a few of the most common signs of stress. In this article, we’ll teach you more about the impact of stress on your kids and what to do about it—because managing that stress is one of the biggest ways to improve your child’s mental health.
The Stress Hormone and What it Actually Does
Before we get into managing stress, it’s important to know what’s going on inside of your child’s body during a “stress response.” A stress response means their fight-or-flight system has been activated. That finds their body pumping out a hormone called cortisol, which raises their heart rate and blood pressure. It can also make them feel afraid and alter their mood. In other words, managing stress isn’t as easy as telling your child not to worry about something. While that can be comforting, it’s still important to remember that your child is navigating a chemical reality that needs to be managed.
What’s At Risk
Stress is a normal part of life. And all of us, including your child, will naturally experience stress from time to time. But when your child is always stressed, that can lead to a lot of different health problems. You can read more about those health problems here, but they include depression, anxiety, heart disease, and memory issues. Needless to say, the impact of stress is very real.
How to Manage Stress and Improve Mental Health
Since chronic stress can lead to both depression and anxiety, stress and mental health are closely linked. That means that managing your child’s stress can make their life both happier and healthier. Here a few great ways to help manage your child’s stress:
- Run a Calm Household – Kids will tend to be stressed out if they spend a lot of time in stressful environments. So, give some thought to the tone and feel of your home. Are there any ways you can make your household more peaceful? A lot of families, for example, are constantly late. That happens—life gets busy and it can be hard to keep on top of everyone’s schedules. But it can also create a climate of chaos. See if something as simple as being consistently early can lower everyone’s stress level.
- Turn Mistakes into Teaching Moments – Let’s say that your child gets a disappointing grade on a math test. Try to help them rethink failure as the first step toward long-term success. How can they use this moment to improve? What can they learn from this? Do they need to prepare differently? Do they need extra help? Work with your kids to turn negatives into positives and develop a winning attitude. That way, they won’t live with the fear and stress of mistakes.
- Make Sure They’re Getting Enough Sleep – Sleep is an absolutely huge part of your child’s development and mental health. A lack of sleep, for example, is closely linked to depression, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder. So, when you make your child’s sleep a priority, you’re making their mental health a priority, too.
- Eat Right – As Harvard Health explains, a diet that’s really high in processed foods can lead to mood disorders, impair your brain’s ability to function, and amplify stress. On the flipside, eating a healthy diet can reduce your risk of depression by up to 35%. So, read this article for more about the types of foods to seek out and avoid.
- Limit Their Social Media Use – Social media tends to make other people’s lives seem unrealistically good. And that can take a toll on your kid’s mental health, as they develop unrealistic standards for their own lives and constantly feel like they’re missing out. So, while social media is now a fact of life, try to limit your child’s time on the apps.
- Exercise – Getting your heart rate up can be a blast. But it also releases “reward chemicals,” like endorphins, that can actually make you feel happier. Exercise can also help reduce depression and anxiety, and improve your child’s mental health. Try to make exercise a priority by getting your kids enrolled in sports, or setting a time for them to get active each day.
- Take a Closer Look at Your Kid’s Schedule – Do you think your kids are overcommitted? Are they trying to cram too much into each day? Are they doing a few things that they really enjoy? Do they have enough say in how they spend their time? Have you introduced your kids to a guided meditation on YouTube? Think about a “work hard/play hard” approach to scheduling where you really strike a balance. School is important, but so is having a great time.
When your kids are stressed, they’re navigating a chemical process inside of their body. And if it lingers, that can lead to mental health issues, like depression, anxiety, and ADD. So, if you notice that your kids are irritable, overwhelmed, or withdrawn, try to help them manage their stress. You can do that by making sure they eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, limit time on social media, and transform their fear of failure. Because even though your child’s stress can be serious, the solutions are well within your reach!