Helping Kids Deal with Stress

| by Greater Good Science Center

This letter is from the latest Raising Happiness Newsletter. To see the rest of the newsletter, click here.

Happy end-of-the-school-year!

This month on the Raising Happiness blog I wrote about some scary statistics revealing the huge stress that kids are under these days. After providing all that evidence that our children are clearly suffering, I promised a follow-up post about how parents can help kids cope with school-related stress and anxiety.

Here are my three specific suggestions for how to help kids cope with stress:

(1) Help Kids Practice Mindfulness.There are loads of resources for this on the Greater Good website. You could get started with this post for parents. But also check out this step-by-step guide to teaching mindfulness, written by the director of the Mindful Schools program. It was originally geared toward teachers but is relevant to parents as well. For more on mindfulness, you’ll also enjoy theGreater Good Guide to Mindfulness,” which is available to GGSC members (more about that here).

(2) Make Sure Kids Are Getting Enough Sleep. Teens need 9.25 hours of sleep per night; first through fifth graders need 10 to 11 hours. If your kids aren’t getting enough sleep, try adding just a little more each night: go to bed 10 minutes earlier for a few nights, then 10 more minutes, until you are in a new routine that has kids getting the sleep they need. If you need to be convinced of the importance of sleep for emotional well-being and school success, read this post.

(3) Foster the Growth Mindset. How we praise our children—and how we talk to them about their academic aspirations—is the single most important correction to the “Race to Nowhere” mentality that is wreaking havoc on our children’s well-being. Check out this post, or this video to learn more about fostering a mindset in your family that helps kids become engaged learners.

Those aren’t the only three things I’d suggest, of course. I’ll be blogging this summer about how we can employ nature in our efforts to reduce kids’ stress. In fact, my blog, book, and online class are all dedicated to practices that foster happiness. For example, you might decide to help your kids deal with stress by working on your own stress first, or your own busyness. Or, you might try to rely less on using external rewards to motivate your kids, so that they can be in closer touch with their intrinsic motivation and their passions.

In general, remember this: Anything you do to bring more positive emotions into your kids’ lives will help them cope with the pressure and stress they may be feeling: Positive emotions act like “breaks” to our fight or flight system, slowing our heart rates and helping us feel calm again.

This all might seem hard now, when end-of-the-school-year busyness can feel overwhelming. But look on the bright side: Summer is right around the corner!


© 2011 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

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