Helping Kids Deal With Stress

Stress is something we all experience at some time in our lives.  It’s what you feel when you are worried or unsure about something.  This worry can affect how you feel physically and emotionally. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that some types of stress are good.  For example, having to compete in a sporting event at camp can make many children feel nervous.  However, this nervousness can actually motivate them to work harder in order to do well.

Compared with adults’ daily challenges, it might not seem like children have as much to feel stressed about.  But kids have their own worries and their own daily hassles.  If a child doesn’t have effective coping strategies, then these worries can become overwhelming and can cause “child-sized” stress.  Kids, like the rest of us have to cope with major life events.  These events don’t have to be negative to be stressful.  Some causes of stress in children include:

  • Moving to a new school/home
  • Not being in your best friends’ cabin at camp
  • Doing a camp activity that you’re not confident about
  • Fighting or arguing among family members
  • Fighting with a friend or fellow camper
  • Birth of a brother or sister
  • Separated parents and/or remarriage of a parent
  • Death of a family member
  • Being teased or laughed at

How do we recognize that a child is feeling stressed?  Because children aren’t able to communicate as effectively as adults, their stress is often internalized and can often display itself in physical ways.  A child may begin to have headaches or tummy aches.  They may also complain of generally not feeling well and a rapid heartbeat.  Other signs that your child may be experiencing stress are:

  • sadness, panic, anger, frustration, crying
  • quieter than usual
  • trouble sleeping or relaxing
  • eating more often or finding it difficult to eat at all
  • not wanting to participate in a camp activity
  • trouble getting along with friends and counsellors
  • fear, crying
  • nervous

Once you recognize that a camper is feeling stressed, there are many things that you can do to help.  The first thing a counsellor/director can do to help the child manage stress is to spend some extra time with them.  During this time, help the camper find things that they are good at and tell them you are proud of them and that they should be proud of themselves.  Other ways to help are:

  • ask lots of questions, listen when the child talks and try to help work out problems
  • help them see the funny side of things- laughter is a great stress reliever
  • provide routines and predictability- this helps with feelings of safety and security
  • do not focus on mistakes
  • gives hugs and pats on the back
  • give them quiet time
  • encourage them to express their feelings/worries
  • help them to recognize the signs of stress so that they can learn when to help themselves
  • exercise to release energy- i.e. doing a sports activity
  • talk to the child’s parents about making sure they get plenty of sleep and good nutrition
  • talk to campers’ parents about avoiding too many programs and after camp activities; kids need time to relax
  • teach them stress management techniques (see below)

One technique that is useful in managing stress is “self-talk”.   Self-talk is the internal communication that we have with ourselves.  With children who are feeling worried, their self- talk is often negative and self defeating, i.e. “I’m not a good swimmer,” or “I won’t have a good time if my friend is not in my cabin.”  Children need to be taught to recognize their negative self-talk and turn it into something more positive; e.g., “I will make new friends” or “I can do this.”

There are also relaxation exercises that a child can use to deal with stress.  The easiest one is to take a deep breath in slowly through your nose- to the count of ten, and exhale slowly through your mouth.  This can be done 2-3 times to help calm the mind and settle the nerves.

The good thing about self-talk and breathing exercises is that you can do them anytime and anywhere without anyone noticing.  You can even do them at camp or before a sporting event if you’re feeling worried or anxious.

In the end, the best way to help keep stress at bay is to lead a balanced life.  Too much of anything isn’t healthy.  A child needs to balance their time at camp, with time to play, time with their family and time for themselves.  If they balance these parts of their lives with good nutrition, plenty of sleep and exercise, then you will most likely see a more relaxed, happy and stress-free camper.

As a Parenting Educator and Family Therapist, Susan Lieberman has spent almost 15 years helping kids, teens and adults meet success.  For more information on Kids Experiencing Stress, please visit www.familysupport.net for helpful downloads on this topic and other proven resources!

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