NDSU Extension - Mercer County

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Maintaining Healthy Levels of Stress in Children

Stress, Children stress, risk behaviors

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Community Wellness

While some amount of stress is both normal and necessary, when stress is overwhelming, it can be unhealthy and quickly take a toll on a child’s developing mind and body. 

Children can begin experiencing stress at a very early age. Anyone of any age can be vulnerable to stress until and unless they have learned effective ways of coping.  Since children typically have not had time or opportunities to develop those coping skills, adults in their lives need to help them manage stress in healthy ways. 

Learning to manage and cope with stress in healthy ways reduces the risk for underage drinking, engaging in other risk behaviors, and developing behavioral health disorders.

Five tips to help keep kids’ stress levels in check are:

  • Help your child slow down.  Avoid overscheduling.
  • Encourage enjoyable exercise.  Exercise has proven benefits to physical and emotional well-being.
  • Make sleep a priority.  This will help improve mood, learning, and decision making.  Establish and maintain healthy bedtime routines and electronics-free bedrooms.
  • Eat a high quality diet that provides adequate amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat protein, and dairy.
  • Keep your child talking. Bottled up emotions do great harm.

Help Your Child Slow Down

Extracurricular activities have many benefits, but overscheduling can have negative effects. Children need downtime to relax and recharge and their brains need time to rest. A great way to know if your children are overscheduled is to pay attention to family meals. If everyone is eating on the run or in the car, there might be too much going on.

Encourage Enjoyable Exercise

Beyond the physical health benefits of exercise, there are many emotional health benefits as well. Exercise releases feel-good endorphins that relieve stress, promote an overall feeling of well-being, and contributes to more restful sleep. Encourage your children to participate in physical activities through organized sports or as a family.

Make Sleep a Priority

Without the proper amount of sleep, stress can increase and cause your child to be more irritable, less alert, and have trouble concentrating or making good decisions. Create an environment that facilitates sleep by having a bedtime routine and keeping electronics and televisions out of the bedroom.

Help Them Eat Well

Children need nourishment to function well throughout the day. This means eating breakfast and not skipping meals, regularly incorporating fruits and vegetables in their diet, and making sure they are staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

Keep Your Child Talking

Bottled-up, negative emotions can wreak havoc on a child’s thought process, leading to poor choices with dangerous consequences. Encourage your children to talk about their thoughts, feelings, or challenges either with you or a trusted friend, teacher or counselor.

More detailed information on this topic is available upon request at the NDSU Extension office in Mercer County.  Call 701.873.5195 and ask for the ParentsLead information.

Adapted from:  Maintaining Healthy Levels of Stress in Your Children, ParentsLead.org

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