My Child Worries Too Much: Managing Childhood Stress

Anticipating the future is a mixed blessing. Some children are overwhelmed with anticipatory anxiety. They worry about events they cannot control, things that haven’t and may not happen. Thinking too much about the future is especially unhealthy for younger children. It may prevent them from trying new activities and being creative.

Conversely, other children are so focused on the present that they ignore the future. This lack of concern can be equally problematic if the child has homework due the next day or needs to prepare for a presentation in front of the class. For these children, the inability to look ahead and consider how they might handle stressful situations can result in maladaptive behavior, overreaction, and an inability regulate their feelings.

In this edition of our Beyond Games series, we provide you with a set of strategies to help with managing childhood stress.

Identify stressful situations ahead of time in preparation for coping with difficult situations in the future.  Having a script to follow could help your child cope with difficult situations in the future and manage his emotions.  It will be important for him to learn that disappointments happen to everyone. The ball does not swish through the net every time one takes a shot, and people do not hit a homerun every time they step up to bat.  It would be unrealistic to expect to get every job for which one applies or to “ace” every test one takes. Talk to your child about the regular and routine disappointments that occur in life and how “understanding and accepting” these disappointments can result in happiness rather than frustration.

Discuss possible consequences to your child’s emotional outbursts.  Thinking about the consequences beforehand can lessen the number of emotional outbreaks.  Ask him to remember past natural consequences to inappropriate behavior. Because he may not understand what constitutes “appropriate” behavior, have clear and concise rules about behavior both in the classroom and at home.  Defined expectations for each location offer a sense of predictability and control and can facilitate emotional modulation.

Clarify the triggers leading to depressed mood, frustration, anger, and anxiety. Youngsters who have problems regulating their mood often see symptoms worsen in certain situations such as when they are overwhelmed by heat or stimulation, hungry, or very tired.  Work with your child to learn to identify the triggers for feeling sad or depressed so that he can develop ways to avoid and manage them. For instance, he could be encouraged to go into a different room to divert his attention when triggered.

Use personal and realistic stories to help your child understand and manage anger. Well-presented stories about anger and other emotions can validate children’s feelings and provide information about anger.  Help him to develop stories or narratives to explain his own and others’ behavior. Encouraging him to talk about his feelings with statements like, “I’m angry because my brothers always tease me when I lose,” could help him better regulate his expression of feelings. You might lead by example by describing a time you were upset when a neighbor’s dog dug up your vegetable garden and how you handled your frustration about this.  Role-play hypothetical scenarios, such as getting blamed for something you did not do, being left out by your friends, or having to do someone else’s task at school because he didn’t do it and discuss various reactions to the situation.

Read our thinking skill pages to learn more about self-awareness, self-control and the emotional regulation that comes with recognizing and understanding one’s own feelings. You can find games and apps that helps kids practice these skills in our Playbooks Archive.


Featured image: Flickr user family treasures

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