As caregivers, we juggle it all- work, family schedules, mealtimes, schoolwork, bills, the list may seem never-ending. Think you might be feeling stressed? But what about your child? It may appear as though children do not have a care in the world. Unfortunately, kids today are worrying more than ever. Based on data collected from the National Survey of Children’s Health for ages 6 to 17, researchers found a 20 percent increase in diagnoses of anxiety between 2007 and 2012.

Stress can affect anyone who feels overwhelmed. In small amounts, it can be good- however, too much stress can influence the way kids feel, act, and think. Most adults have the skills to adapt to stressful situations, but for kids- even small changes in their routine can cause stress.

fit recently spoke with Erin Mack, Senior Behavior Health Counselor at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, SD, to discuss how kids and caregivers can positively cope with childhood stress.

Talking with kids about stress can feel challenging. If a caregiver notices their child behaving “out of the norm” how can they appropriately address their concern with the child?
Set aside time with your child and express your concerns. Give them a safe space to share what they may be feeling and validate those feelings. Let your child know you support them. Kids may not always be looking for an answer, but just really need someone to listen!

If kids choose not to engage in conversation or respond with “I’m fine”, how can caregivers continue to monitor and support their child?
Reiterate your support and willingness to listen as needed. If you continue to have concerns, it may be beneficial to point out your reasons for feeling this way. If you feel your child may respond differently to another family member or school counselor that could also be considered. 

What ‘warning signs’ should caregivers be aware of when looking for symptoms of stress?
Warning signs to watch for would be changes in mood, increased irritability, anxiety, sleep disturbance, isolation and possible somatic complaints. 

When kids are experiencing stress, it can be beneficial to do something in the moment to help them calm down. What are a few quick calming strategies kids can practice?
Some beneficial strategies include: simply taking a break and going on a short walk, deep breaths, playing a game, or practicing mindfulness techniques such as “Five Senses”. In this activity kids focus on finding 5 things they can see, 4 things they can feel, 3 things they can hear, 2 things they can smell and 1 thing they can taste.

What advice would you provide caregivers who are searching for ways they can help their child positively cope with stress? 

Stress is part of our lives whether we like it or not! Teaching kids to manage stress in healthy ways at a young age will only help them to succeed later in life. A supportive person to listen and simple coping skills can make a significant difference. Also, remember that your child is always watching and learning from you, so it is important that they are seeing you demonstrate healthy coping skills as well!

Want to learn more about stress? Check out our video Know Yourself: What is Stress? Also, try a fitFlow or use the How Do You Feel? printable to help manage and identify feelings.