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Tackling Stress and Building Coping Skills as a Family

Parents and caregivers have a difficult task this time of year: trying to finish personal and work related projects, make summer plans, and help kids prepare for the end of the school year and everything that entails! ---

The arrival of summer typically indicates a more relaxed pace of life, but that doesn’t mean that this time of year isn’t without stress. Our schedules and routines change, sometimes frequently, during the summer bringing about stress for every member of the family.

As adults, we have our preferred coping strategies for keeping our stress in check, but what do our kids do to ease the stress they feel? Children experience stress differently than adults and may have a difficult time identifying that they are feeling stress. Additionally, adults often avoid discussing stress with children in an effort to shield them from it.

Children learn about stress and how to cope with stress through the adults in their lives. If no one is talking about stress and coping with their kids, how will they learn these skills?

Here are 4 things to try as a family to promote discussion of stress, healthy coping strategies, and developing increased well-being:

Focus on the present
  • Stress comes from a place of worry about future events: How will I get all of this done? How will this be resolved? What am I going to do? Use strategies such as mindfulness, to bring your thoughts back to the present.
  • Mindfulness increases one’s ability to intentionally pause and examine their emotions and behaviors without judgement. There are many mindfulness podcasts and videos available on the internet, some even tailored to children. Here are some of my favorites:
    Cosmic Kids Mindfulness Videos
    Mindfulness Meditation Podcasts (from UW School of Medicine and Public Health)
Take intentional breaks, together
  • Have some time carved out in your daily or weekly schedule to do something enjoyable as a family. Make a craft, go for a walk, play a game, try out a new restaurant, read together! Talk about the positive emotions you feel while you do this activity and carry those emotions forward throughout your day or week. Planning this into your weekly routine will provide something to look forward to for you and your child.
Try out new coping strategies together
  • Want to try something new to deal with a stressor? Engage your child in the process. Talk about how that activity makes you both feel and if was effective at reducing your stress. Involving your child in this process teaches them how to try new coping strategies and that everyone has their own coping strategy preferences.
Gratitude
  • Research shows that writing down things you are grateful for, just a few times a week can increase your personal sense of well-being, improve your physical health, and make you feel happier. Make it a part of your daily routine: every evening at bedtime, discuss or write down a few things you and your child are grateful for in your life or in your day. They can be small, like being grateful for a satisfying meal, or larger such as being grateful for one’s health or an encouraging life event.
  • Taking note of the positive events in a day can minimize the impact of stress and less positive events. On a personal note, this is a practice I recently adapted and have honestly felt the effects of on a much greater scale than I imagined. Try it!

As adults, we can be positive role models by teaching children and adolescents about stress and coping strategies rather than trying to mask the stress we are feeling. Teaching kids about coping strategies helps them to become more proficient users of these strategies as they grow up. Stress doesn’t have to be an individually burdensome experience. Make experiencing and coping with stress something your family does as a team!

Sources:
(2015). Childhood stress. Retrieved from http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/stress.html#
Emmons, R., Lyubomirsky, S. (n.d). Gratitude journal. Retrieved from https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/gratitude_journal

Written By:
Kathleen Kubisiak MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist

Tackling Stress and Building Coping Skills as a Family
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