When you’re raising a family, stress can be a normal part of everyday life. Small amounts of stress can even be beneficial to keep us motivated and productive. However, did you know that your stress level could be affecting your children? The American Psychological Association discovered that one-fifth of children report that they worry “a great deal or a lot”- this rates as a 8, 9, or 10 on a 10-point scale. Two of the biggest stressors for children ages 8 to 17 are doing well in school and worrying about their family’s financial situation.
Many parents may not notice these stressors and how they are affecting their children’s behavior, so our team at MD Moms has compiled a list of signs that your children may be overstressed and what you can do to help:
- Their day is jam-packed with activities: If you’re constantly running from one sports game or club meeting to the next, your kids may be feeling the stress just as much as you are. Take 10 seconds to sit and breath with your kids when you get a break between activities. If you can barely fit all of your kids’ extra-curricular activities in, take some time to question if every extra activity is really necessary and consider cutting down the time spent at a few.
- They’re having trouble sleeping: Lack of sleep is one of the most common effects of stress, and not getting enough sleep can actually increase stress levels. Make sure your kids are going to bed at a time where they can get at least 8 hours of sleep; limit screen time if needed.
- Your child becomes disinterested in activities they normally like: Regression is a common sign of stress in children. If they stop doing the activities they normally liked to do, like hanging out with friends or playing outside, it may be a sign they are stressed. Talk to your children and discuss appropriate ways to deal with stress, like meditation or exercise.
- Your child frequently complains about feeling sick: Frequent headaches and stomach aches are signs of too much stress. When you’re stressed, your immune system weakens. Make sure your family washes their hands regularly, exercises and eats healthy. You can also try stress-relieving activities as a family, such as taking a walk or reading a book together.
- They start to put themselves down: Sometimes, children will take their stress out on themselves. They’ll start to blame themselves for their negative feelings, saying things like “I’m stupid,” or crying and whining more. You can discourage this by talking to your child and helping them pinpoint the source of their stress, and then making a plan together to help alleviate it.
- Their grades start slipping: If your child normally does well in school but seems to be getting lower scores, this is a common sign of anxiety. Overstressing causes children to have trouble concentrating. You can help them organize their schoolwork, so they know what work to prioritize and what they can tackle later.
- You’re not spending as much time together as a family: If your family doesn’t want to have family dinner together, it may be a sign that the family as a whole is feeling too much collective stress. If someone in your family is cranky or overstressed, chances are your children aren’t going to want to spend that extra time together. Try to reinforce positive dinner table conversations, like taking turns sharing the best part of your day.
- When you’re together, you’re fighting more: Stress causes irritability and moodiness, and this can translate into family fights. When you feel a fight erupting, take a deep breath and soften your voice. Take this time to encourage your children to talk about what is bothering them, and let them know what is stressing you out as well.
- There have been changes at home: Your home environment has a huge affect on your family’s anxiety levels. You should keep an eye on your children especially after circumstances such as divorce, the loss of a job, or a death in the family. Encourage them to openly talk about their feelings.
The way you deal with stress can also have an affect on your children, as they will frequently model their behavior after yours. You can also follow some of these tips to try to eliminate some stress in your life. By taking time out to acknowledge, talk about, and deal with specific stressors, you and your family will be happier and healthier!