Helping your child handle stress

Specialist Nurse Adviser at Bupa UK
10 August 2018

Thousands of young people across the UK received their A-level results last week, and this week it will be the turn of those who've taken their GCSEs. On results day, some will no doubt be jumping with joy and looking to the future with excitement, while many others will be dealing with disappointment. All are likely to have felt a certain amount of stress in the build up to getting their results.

The pressures of exams can be really difficult for young people to deal with. Childline regularly reports an increase in children calling them for emotional support around this time of year. And even aside from exam results, it’s easy for adults to forget that children have a lot on their plates. Going to school, making friends and keeping up with the latest trends can all be sources of worry. Not to mention trying to make sense of troublesome world events they inevitably pick up on from the news.

So what can you do to help your child handle stress as a parent? While there’s no magic answer, I’m going to try to give you some tools to help.

A boy sitting down in a library

Talk to your child about stress

For adults and children alike, talking to someone we trust about a problem can often help us to see it from a more helpful perspective. If your child seems stressed and they’re willing to open up about the issue, it’s a chance for you to be a good listener, help them feel understood, and suggest constructive steps they can take. Here are some pointers.

  • Give your child space. Don’t force the conversation until they’re ready.
  • Pick the right time and place. If you plan to start the discussion, think about where and when would work best. For example, it might feel more relaxed to chat during a car ride or a walk, rather than straight after dinner when everyone’s full and tired.
  • Try to bring the topic up naturally. Asking a question too directly can sometimes put children off. There are usually ways to introduce a topic more subtly. For example, perhaps there’s a TV programme you both watch where one of the characters seems stressed, and you could ask your child what they think about it.
  • Be a good listener. There’s research suggesting adults often have difficulties doing this with children. We can easily approach the conversation thinking we know what’s in a child’s best interest, while we should really be more open to hearing and acknowledging their views.
  • Help them recognise their feelings. Suggest words to fit with what they’re describing. When a child becomes more able to identify and express emotions, it can relieve their frustration and pressure.
  • Help them have a wider perspective. If they’re worried about exam results, for example, remind them that doing well in exams is by no means the only way to be successful in the future.
  • Don’t worry if the conversation doesn’t get off the ground. Kids won’t always be receptive to talking about what’s stressing them. Even just being present and letting them know you’re there is likely to make a difference.

Be mindful together

Mindfulness is all about being aware and present. There are two main ways you could apply it when helping your child to cope with stress.

  • Be a mindful parent. This means learning to pay better attention to how you act as a parent and how you respond to your child.
  • Help your child to be mindful. This isn’t about telling them how to act or behave. It can involve simple steps such as taking your child to the park for an afternoon, to help them get away from the TV or tablet. You could also suggest activities that will give them moments of peace and reflection, such as keeping a diary.

The video below can give you ideas about how to practise mindfulness as a family.

Be active and eat well

  • Exercise together. Physical activity can reduce stress, anxiety and depression for children and adults. Whether it’s playing games in the park, walking the dog or turning housework into a game, there are lot of great ways to be active with kids. Take your child’s lead on the kinds of activities they find most appealing.
  • Think about the link between stress and diet. If your child eats lots of sugary foods or soft drinks, this may be making their stress worse, by causing their blood sugar level to rise and fall quickly. It’s not about denying them treats altogether, but try swapping sugar for healthier options when you can.

Help your child move on

If your child has received their exam results or is stressed about something that can’t be changed, they may need some time to get over the situation. You can help them by taking what they’re feeling seriously, and not dismissing their emotions.

Over time, gently encourage them to accept what has happened and move on. Perhaps there are positives to take from their results that they can build on in the future? Maybe it opens up a new avenue for studying or working that they hadn’t thought of before?

You can also encourage your child to do things that helps them relax and take their mind off the stress. Whether it’s seeing friends, going to the cinema, baking or whatever they enjoy – try to help them feel good, and remind them how proud you are of them.

If you’re worried about your child’s stress levels or their mental health in general, please remember that there are support services available. You can speak to your GP about what to do. The charity Young Minds also has a parent’s helpline that you can call on 0808 802 5544.

Here at Bupa we understand how important your family is. So with our family health insurance you can rest assured knowing that eligible treatment and support is available to you and your loved ones when you need it.

Fatmata Kamara
Specialist Nurse Adviser at Bupa UK

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