Happy Kids: Creative and Effective Ways to Reduce Stress for Little Ones

By Emily Roberts MA, LPC

Kids today are pretty stressed out.  Whether it be that state exam they have to pass before moving onto the next grade, the upcoming choir concert, or the social drama that most young ones have in the playground, life can be a little more overwhelming than  we may remember.  It’s important to ask our children, if they are feeling overwhelmed, and many of us are so inundated by our own stressors, that we forget to. By this time of year, they are growing tired of school and expectations, ready to have more recess and less dance recitals.  The pressures often go unnoticed until you speak with them as adolescents.  I have many teenagers and adults tell me that their anxiety started when they were in grade school.

So how do we teach our children that stress is a normal part of life and can be combated in effective ways? I frequently teach workshops to children on this very topic; children love learning new tools and tricks to feeling better.  When we give them control to pick the techniques that they would like to employ, we are giving them the opportunity to figure out what really works for them, rather then choosing what we want to work for them.  It instills a sense of knowing themselves at a very young age, which is a quality that if developed now, will with self-esteem building, confidence, and self worth that will last a life time.

Stress-Less Ideas

Make a Mind Jar. I love this idea.  A mother, and who spent years in the mental health field created The Mind Jar to help relax her daughter through the first few weeks of kindergarten.  This calming tool is fun to make and allows kids to focus on calming down.  I only use the Mind Jar to get through moments of fear or anxiousness with my kids.  If they are worried about school, or a family member they know is ill, or strife with a friend.  I’m usually sitting with them and we’ll talk it out, as we both enjoy the glitter show.  It never occurred to me to hand them a glass jar full of liquid and glitter while they were in the throes of a tantrum.  What is a mind jar?  It’s a jar full or glitter glue, glitter and water.  Swirl it around and relax while you watch the glitter fall to the bottom of the jar. Check out her awesome blog at chasingthefirefly.wordpress.com

Play dough. Pick up a pack or make  your own from  the simple recipe below.  Whenever I work on stress reduction or anger with kids, play dough is a hidden gem!  They can use it to practice mindfulness and focus on how it feels in their hands as well as how their body feels when they squeeze, pound or pull it.  I often have them make a fruit shape and have them “squeeze” the juice out slowly, focusing on how this whole body feels, and name what they are feeling.  If do this a few times coupled with some breathing and you just relaxed your kiddo. Want to get super creative and make your own?  Try this recipe from Musings from a stay at home mom http://musingsfromasahm.com/2012/02/easy-homemade-playdough-recipe/

Write it out.  When you get worries out of your head and on to a to-do list or journal, life becomes a bit more manageable. Help your child do this by giving them a note pad and some colorful markers.  If the child is old enough, have them write out all the things that are on their mind, then prioritize it.  For school stress this is a sure thing, “talk to Ms. G about retaking test tomorrow”, “pack lunch”, “finish math homework.” Read chapter 4 for English” “Call Jen about hanging out this weekend.” When they get all the thoughts in their head down on paper, it allows for space to be made to actually do them, plus you can see what really is stressful for them and help.  Have younger kids list these things out loud (or drawn them) while you write.

Tip: Then let THEM chose what they want your help with, sometimes they may want to keep their list private, that’s okay.  When they are done they can crumple, rip or get rid of the list.

Yoga for Kids.  There are some amazing classes out there and studios that have yoga classes specifically for kids.  As much as this is great for flexibility, it is also wonderful tool that teaches  mindfulness and body awareness.  If it’s a few postures when they are frustrated with homework or mad at a friend, it allows them to GET IN THEIR BODY and out of their anxious mind.  If your child detests the idea of going to a class, try DVD or hit up YouTube for some kids practicing poses.  I love this article by Michele Zip from Cafe Mom, on Yoga poses to help kids sleep better (they may help us sleep better too)

The bottom line: If we give kids the tools now, we see happier better adjusted adults.

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