Discipline Strategies for Stressed Out Kids

Recognize how stress impacts your child’s behavior

Kids can become stressed out by the problems in their lives. © Crysrob | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

Stress can play a big role in your child’s behavior. You may be thinking, “What could my child possibly be stressed about?” After all, kids don’t have to worry about paying bills, going to work, or keeping a household running. However, kids often experience different sources of stress that can impact how they behave.

Sources of Stress

Children have different levels of toleration for stress. While some children may not be bothered by getting a bad grade on a test, another child may be very stressed out by it.

It’s important to look at your child’s temperament when considering what events are likely to be perceived as stressful by your child.

Sometimes stress involves big problems for kids, such as their parents’ divorce or moving to a new town and attending a new school. At other times, issues that adults may think are small, such as a disagreement with a friend, can be a source of stress.

Exposure to too much screen time can even be stressful for kids, especially if they witness a lot of violence. Too much time playing video games or watching TV combined with lack of physical activity can certainly cause stress for kids.

Even positive activities can be stressful. For example, attending a birthday party or preparing for a holiday gathering can cause stress for many kids. Being overscheduled can be stressful for kids if they are running from one activity to the next.

How Stress Impacts Kids

Kids make the best decisions when they are able to use all of their brain.

However, stress hormones can take up a lot of brain power and prevent kids from being able to access parts of their brain that are necessary for managing their behavior.

When kids are stressed, they often aren’t able to recognize their feelings. Stress hormones interfere with a child’s ability to recognize feelings such as fear or sadness.

They may act out their feelings rather than talking about them.

Stressed out kids also have more difficulty concentrating and paying attention. This can influence their ability to make healthy decisions for themselves. Stress can lead to kids behaving more impulsively and erratically.

Stress can interfere with a child’s appetite and sleeping patterns as well. And overtired and hungry kids aren’t known for behaving well. Mood swings are common in kids when they are feeling stressed out as well.

Helping Kids Reduce their Stress

If you notice your child is having difficulty handling stress, talk about it. Try to work together on problem-solving strategies to help reduce stress. For example, if your child is feeling overwhelmed by his homework, develop some ways to help him organize his time and get extra help when necessary.

Teach kids about feelings and strategies to deal with unpleasant feelings. Kids need to learn how to cope with anger, sadness, frustration and anxiety. Show them healthy ways to manage their uncomfortable feelings.

Model healthy ways to handle the stress in your life. If you are stressed out, your child will be too. However, if you show your child that you take time to care for yourself so you can handle stress successfully, your child will learn to do the same.

Discipline Strategies for Stressed Out Kids

Use your discipline strategies as a tool to teach kids skills to manage their stress. For example, a time out can be a great way to teach kids to take some time to calm down when they are feeling upset. Praise kids when they are practicing skills to help them stay calm and manage their time well.

Discuss expectations ahead of time. Establish household rules and make the consequences clear. Be as proactive as you can to identify situations that may be extra stressful for your child. When those situations can’t be avoided, work with your child on strategies to manage his behavior.

Stay consistent with discipline when kids are going through stressful times. Sometimes parents are tempted to give kids a break but this can be confusing and anxiety-provoking for kids. For example, when parents are divorcing, they may be tempted to let kids get away with more behaviors but kids may then feel that their parents aren’t in control anymore and may be confused when parents try to reinstate the rules.

Seek Professional Help

Sometimes it may be necessary to seek professional help for your child. When kids become seriously stressed, they may be more prone to depression and anxiety, in addition to behavior problems. If your child’s behavior becomes out of control or if you are concerned about ongoing stress, talk to your child’s pediatrician or consult with a mental health professional. A child counselor may be able to assist your child in learning skills to manage stress and a parenting expert may be able to assist you in learning strategies to help your child.

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