Managing Stress: Supporting Children's Mental Health for a Brighter Future

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Managing Stress: Supporting Children's Mental Health for a Brighter Future

Children of all ages experience stress. Some stress can be good and some stress can be bad. An example of good stress might be moderate pressure from a teacher or coach to improve grades or participate more fully in athletic events.  Through overcoming these hurdles children have the opportunity to practice resilience, navigating life’s inevitable hurdles and bumps in the road. Bad stress examples are myriad, and continuous exposure to bad stress can lead to adverse health outcomes.  

All children succeed if they have emotional support from family and friends, a strong self esteem, and have navigated stressful experiences in the past and feel able to manage these challenges.  To help develop a strong emotional bond with children, set aside 10 minutes per day (more if you can afford) without interruption or electronics and do an enjoyable activity together like go for a walk, play a board game or cards, do art. To help children develop a strong self esteem teach them positive self talk (You got this!” or “That was a smart choice!”).  You can model this by saying these types of phrases to yourself out loud.   

Excluding the subject of violence/abuse/harm, there are day-to-day practices that can help children better manage the physiologic effects of stress. When we are faced with stress persistently we can become prone to depression, irritability, loss of sleep, lack of focus, headaches, changes in appetite, etc. How can we keep our internal state healthy and ready to face challenges? We can prioritize sleep, aim for daily movement, spend time in nature, eat nutritious foods, and we can meditate. In addition to being utilized since ancient times, meditation is backed by science. Studies show that meditating can improve attention, behavior, lower blood pressure and heart rate. There are many resources here in Wilmington for learning about meditation, many of the yoga centers in town offer a meditation type class. But you don’t need to join a yoga center to meditate. A simple form of meditation is to focus on your breathing and maybe say a phrase to yourself very simply while you’re breathing in “I am breathing in” and when you exhale say to yourself “I am breathing out.” Set a timer for a couple minutes, and check in how you feel afterward. Maybe for your toddler you try this for 1 minute; if meditating isn’t something your toddler is ready for give them bubbles – they essentially have to breathe deeply to create bubbles. Think of trying simple breathing mediation with a gradeschooler maybe 3 minutes, and teenager maybe 5.  Don’t let these suggestions on time hold you back – if your gradeschooler or teen is ready for more go for it!  If instead you would like to try something like a movement meditation, check out the Labyrinth meditation at Airlie Gardens. The free community day is the first Sunday of every month. Children of all ages can try out the labyrinth meditation – the gardens have a nice sign nearby instructing how to use it but really it’s just walking in a path. 

Wishing you and your family healthy, joyous living! 

~Dr. DeLouise 


Here are some excellent resources to help kids manage stress: 

Helping Children Handle Stress: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Pages/Helping-Children-Handle-Stress.aspx 


Just Breathe: The Importance of Meditation Breaks for Kids: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Pages/Just-Breathe-The-Importance-of-Meditation-Breaks-for-Kids.aspx?_ga=2.243707333.1986644626.1683552460-1529743482.1682599757&_gl=1*18hxakj*_ga*MTUyOTc0MzQ4Mi4xNjgyNTk5NzU3*_ga_FD9D3XZVQQ*MTY4MzU1MjQ1OS4zLjEuMTY4MzU1Mjk1Ny4wLjAuMA.. 


Healthy Sleep Habits; How Many Hours Does Your Child Need: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/sleep/Pages/healthy-sleep-habits-how-many-hours-does-your-child-need.aspx?_ga=2.238846272.1986644626.1683552460-1529743482.1682599757&_gl=1*1rchbqg*_ga*MTUyOTc0MzQ4Mi4xNjgyNTk5NzU3*_ga_FD9D3XZVQQ*MTY4MzU1MjQ1OS4zLjEuMTY4MzU1Mjk1Ny4wLjAuMA..