PAMF Health Blog

Be Well, Be Well Informed

Help Your Child Learn to Manage Stress Effectively

Posted on Jan 17, 2012

Soccer practice, ice skating lessons, piano recitals, birthday parties, a full homework load and several school projects on the horizon – our kids’ lives can make the busiest Silicon Valley exec’s schedule look manageable. In today’s competitive environment, where kids feel they need to excel at so many different things, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Although stress is part of our daily lives, parents shouldn’t feel powerless. One of the most important things you can do is to help your child learn to manage stress effectively, so that he or she can live a healthy, balanced life – and as a parent of a child with activities, you can, too.

My daughter is very busy with school work, sports and other extracurricular activities. How can I tell if she is getting too stressed?

Just as adults can get stressed out, kids can, too. Stress may be affecting your daughter’s health, if she:

  • Complains of headaches or stomach pains
  • Seems withdrawn, forgetful or overwhelmed and is not doing what she is supposed to be doing
  • Has trouble falling asleep and seems tired and irritable during the day
  • Is not thriving at school and has less interest than usual in attending classes and doing homework
  • Seems less interested in activities that used to give her pleasure
  • Loses or gains weight which might indicate an eating disorder

What’s the best way to help my son manage stress? 

Although it’s impossible to eliminate stress from your child’s life, there are many things you can do to help him learn to manage it:

  • Teach him good time management skills, so school projects aren’t left till the last minute.
  • Make sure he gets regular breaks. For example, encourage him to take a break when he gets home from school rather than immediately starting on homework. Tasks often expand to fit the time allowed for them. Taking some time for a break or a sports activity you enjoy can help provide stress relief.
  • Monitor how much he has on his activities plate. If assignments are slipping through the cracks or he has missed yet another sports practice, talk to him about how to keep things balanced. Ask him what he thinks is a reasonable load and if there is anything he could let go to make things more manageable.
  • Talk to or encourage him to speak to his teachers if he is struggling at school. Find out if tutoring might help or if he can have some extra time to complete homework assignments.
  • Make sure he is getting enough sleep, regular exercise and eating healthy foods.
  • Share ways that you manage stress successfully – whether it’s taking a brisk walk, taking some deep breaths or reading a couple of chapters of a good book or articles in a favorite magazine.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. Make sure you know what’s going on in his life and check in with him often.

My 10-year-old son is one of the soccer stars on his team and the coach has suggested that he could play more competitively. Is that a good idea?

Although exercise is vital to a healthy life, competitive sports can be too much of a good thing and add unwanted stress to your child’s life – and yours. In any sports your son plays, you should ensure that he is not pushed too much either by the coach or yourself. It’s much more important that he is having fun, learning to play the game and how to be a supportive teammate and a good sport.

Competitive sports are often year-round, so your child may also be limited to constantly playing one particular sport which can result in overuse injuries. It’s much more important for him to try out many different sports and enjoy soccer as a good stress buster rather than another possible stress factor.

All my 12-year-old daughters’ friends seem to be on the Internet and using social media. She’s keen to join them online, should I let her? 

The Internet and social media score big in pre-teens’ and teens’ lives, but it’s important to remember that social media participation can become a big stress factor. She is at an age where what her peers think and say about her is becoming more and more important. It used to be just about your reputation at school or on the playground – now this extends to the Internet. Through social media sites, it’s all too easy to share misinformation, engage in badmouthing and cyberbullying, which can be extremely stressful and can hurt your daughter’s self-esteem.

If she does go online, keep tabs on what information she is sharing and viewing. Help her stay safe on the net by:

  • Setting consistent limits on Internet usage and screen time (this includes any hand-held electronic devices).
  • Using available software applications to restrict access to certain sites
  • Talking to her about Internet safety and what’s appropriate (and what’s not) in online communications.
  • Knowing your daughter’s friends and having them over to your house for get-togethers or parties rather than just letting them interact online.
  • Encouraging her to talk to you if she sees or reads anything on the Internet she is concerned about. 

Tracy DeAmicis McMahan, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, and contributed to this blog post.