Under Pressure: Teaching Kids to Deal With Stress In Life

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By: Yael Flam, LMSW

You may have already asked your child “What’s stressing you out?” only for them to answer “Nothing, I’m fine.” We’ve all been there! You just want to know everything so you can always be there for your kids and help out however you can. But the truth is, a child doesn’t always need to be asked tons of questions. They – and their problems and worries – need to be seen, heard, and validated.

One of the best ways to interact with our kids, especially when they don’t want to talk, or can’t talk about what is stressing them out, is to model stress for them. What does stress look like? What should it look like? How do we talk about it? How do we deal with it?

Stress is a normal part of life, and it is not a bad thing – even though it might feel bad sometimes.Children are likely to repeat what the adults around them do, especially their caregivers, and we can model how to deal with stress to our children. If we say, “Don’t be stressed about that!” or, “Come on, get over it!” we are sending a clear message to kids whether we mean to or not. And that message is: “Your feelings do not matter to me. Your reality is not important to me.” This message, when consistent, can lower a child’s self-esteem and increase their anxiety. Because when we resist stress, it will persist!

What can we do to support kids going through stressful situations?

Validate, Validate, Validate!

“I can see that this is difficult for you.” When anyone is heard in this way, and seen, their stress level automatically goes down. And in saying this, you show kids how to calm themselves down as well. Hearing and understanding our children is the best medicine for them in order to reduce stress, and learn the skill of calming themselves down.

Make It About You

Talking about yourself, even if your story is made up, further models how to deal with stress. “When I was your age, a classmate made fun of my clothes, too. It made me really, really sad. I cried a lot, and I talked with my mom about it. She gave me a hug.” By doing this, you are giving the child options of how to deal with their stress. You can do this with any situation that comes up with your child that is stressful!

Create Stressful Situations

You can bump into a table or drop all your things on the ground. Make mistakes on purpose around your child – doing something staged might feel silly at first, but it’s an amazing way to teach kids how to cope with virtually any situation they come into. Remember, you are an important tool for them; children watch very closely to see how you respond to stress. If you respond to stress by being frantic, they will learn to do the same. But if you can stay collected and be resourceful, they can learn to do that too.

Sometimes we forget – it’s hard to grow up! It’s stressful not to have much control over your life, and to not have the emotional tools to deal with those feelings just yet. But we don’t need to get rid of stress, sadness, anger, or frustration for our kids. Nor could we, even if we wanted to. It’s part of being human and something we run into every day growing up. Let’s normalize this for our children, so they can deal with stress as it comes their way throughout the rest of life.


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