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Talking To Your Children About Stress

“Mommy, why are you biting your nails?”

How does one explain to their children that sometimes life gets to be overwhelming? More importantly, how does one make sure that their children do not develop the same unhealthy coping mechanisms as them? Stress is inevitable. Your children seeing that you are stressed is also inevitable. Therefore, open communication and explaining stress is vital to fostering your child’s healthy relationship with stress. 

You might be wondering; “How do I explain these complex emotions to my child?” The simplified answer is to just talk. Validate feelings and when you notice your child feeling stressed, put words to their emotions. Perhaps they lost their last soccer game and are anxious to practice for the next one. Their faces might get red and they might be clenching their fists in anticipation and worry. Ask them what their physical symptoms are. “Do you feel like your tummy hurts? Is your heart beating fast?” Then explain that this might be a combination of nerves and stress. When they recognize the feelings in themselves, they’ll begin to understand the complex nature of the emotion. Putting a name to the feeling also allows the child to notice and identify the emotion. Connecting the emotions to physical symptoms also allows your child to identify the emotion quickly.  Validating their feelings and creating a safe environment to speak about stress creates trust between you and your child.

 It is also important to communicate to your child what stress looks like when you feel it. Explaining that although it is not healthy, when you get that funny feeling in your chest, biting your nails allows your child to see you as someone who also experiences these feelings. It also normalizes these foreign emotions to the little one. You might even find that speaking about your emotions out loud forces you to deal with stress in a productive and healthy manner. For instance, if you start to get stressed and explain to your child, “I’m a bit overwhelmed so I am going to take a bath” then you’ll find yourself reverting to healthy coping mechanisms. This will also model healthy coping behaviors for your child. 

Another great tactic to teach your children about stress is reading. Children feel less alone if they know that other children are also facing the same issues. Reading children's books allows your kid to connect and learn positive ways to deal with stress. Some great books include “Ruby Finds A Worry” and “The Worrysaurus.”

It is also important to note that talking to your child about complex emotions can be stressful, but don’t stress! A lot of times parents can overthink conversations which leads to apprehension and anxiety regarding the topics and eventually the conversations never happen. It’s easier to just do it! Listen intently and respond thoughtfully. An easy way to approach the conversation is by following the 3 D’s, demystify it, de-demonize it, and develop self awareness. Demystifying stress means explaining the physical and emotional symptoms. De-demonize means normalizing the emotion to your child and developing self awareness means encouraging your child to identify stress when they feel it and also to verbally address your stress when you feel it!