Teaching Stress Management to Children

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

In this lesson we discuss how to teach stress management techniques to children, including deep breathing, meditation, and some apps available on the Internet.

Who as an adult doesn't feel the intense effects of a stressful world on our day-to-day lives? If stress, which is a state of emotional and physical tension that results from great demands on the human brain and body, affects us as adults, imagine the impact that it has on our children. Sadly, many scientists believe that stress can cause disease, illness, and even premature death.

At times, stress can seem overwhelming to children

Fortunately, there are many stress management techniques, which use coping strategies to deal with stress. You can teach your students these methods to reduce the toll stress can take on the mind and body. They include the following 14 tips:

  • Allow for unstructured play and free time. Children have very little free time of their own. In between school, homework, and planned activities (often including weekends), they only slow down to sleep at night. A walk in a field or just listening to some music can go a long way towards reducing stress levels.
  • Avoid too many violent movies, television shows, and video games. Some scientists believe that watching violence and playing violent video games can lead to stress and anxiety in children. While each person is different, consider encouraging children to watch shows that are more positive and to play games that challenge the mind.
  • Cope with competition stress and sports stress. Whether it's a debate on the forensics team or a big football playoff game, stress can be incredibly intense when the pressure to win is on a child. Some students find that self-talk is helpful, such as telling oneself that all those days of practice were worth it to be in this situation.
  • Cope with test anxiety. Teach students that testing is a part of life and to accept the challenge.
  • Don't overschedule. Some children sign up for band, dance, and gymnastics and then find they are performing at a mediocre level in all three. Perhaps consider signing up for only one or two activities per year. This ties in with the concept of allowing for unstructured play and free time.

Overscheduling can lead to the feeling that too much is coming on at once

  • Educate yourself about stress, and realize that some stress (mental arousal) is good. Many scientists believe that not only is too much stress bad, but also that too little stress leads to poor performance (think of a bell curve.) This theory is also known as the Yerkes-Dodson law. Also, children should be taught that stress is indeed a part of everyday life, and should not be feared or totally avoided, but dealt with in an efficient manner.
  • Get good sleep. Many children tend to stay up late and are not morning people. Set a specific bedtime of perhaps 10:00 p.m. or so. Write down the exact time. Then have the student go to bed one to five minutes earlier per night, until the earlier time seems normal.
  • Keep a stress journal or stress log. These are portfolios in which a child monitors daily stressful activities, and writing down one's feelings can be stress-relieving in itself. Furthermore, the child can go back and review the information to see what is and isn't working.
  • Listen to relaxing music. A lot of the music children listen to is high-energy, aggressive, and may even promote violence. The child can be encouraged to try other forms of music. Slower forms of classical music and jazz can be very soothing. Also, on the Internet one can find many relaxing videos of ocean waves, mountain streams, birds chirping, or fireplaces crackling.
  • Practice deep breathing. We all have to breathe, but many of us breathe in a shallow manner. Deep breathing may help to enrich the blood with oxygen and calm the brain and body.
  • Stick to good dietary habits. Many doctors and scientists espouse the virtues of a healthy diet to yield improved health and actually reduce stress. Of course, the child should speak to a doctor before making any dietary changes.
  • Make the time if you don't take the time. Many children do not want to build in exercise, healthy eating, or relaxation time into their daily schedules. However, the results can be worth it.

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