7 Ways to Help Kids Release Stress and Negativity

All parents want their kids to have the most beautiful and carefree childhood, but there is no denying the fact that worries and stress will pave way into their lives sometime or the other. There is no point in trying to shield them from triggers of stress; it’s rather more helpful if we enable them become resilient now by equipping them with the right skills to manage stress and anxiety.

Children these days are not only faced with stress from schools (could be peer pressure, academic performance, bullies, etc.), but also have to deal with the larger global triggers like the pandemic, the ongoing Ukraine Russia crises, the gun violence, school shootings, etc. There is so much going on in the world and the kids are bound to know about it all from their peers even if parents want to keep them away from such worrying and unpleasant news.

So, what can we as parents and caregivers do to help kids release their stress and negativity? Whizpa has collated a list of easy-to-implement ideas that can enable you to do just that:

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate – There is no replacement for keeping the lines of communication open. It is our duty to know what is happening in our kids’ lives that might be keeping them up at night. For children, just knowing their parents are aware of the problems can provide them a safety net and assure them that they will be taken care of, no matter the magnitude of the problem.

2. Stick to a routine - It is important for kids to have a consistent routine. Developing a repetitive family ritual helps kids have consistency and security in the home, as well as allows them develop good habits for life. In an era where kids face umpteen challenges on almost a daily basis, the predictability and familiarity that comes with routine offers the perfect ‘safe zone’ that their minds and bodies need.

3. Make use of the tried and tested stress management techniques – Experts advocate parents to teach simple stress management techniques to children to ease their mental burdens. Some of the most commonly used techniques include:

  • Write and destroy - Have your child actually pen down the problem and the feeling associated with the problem on a piece of paper. For example, “I scored below expectations on my Maths exam and felt ashamed about the score in front of my peers”, “I don’t like Cathy’s new friend and feel jealous as she spends more time with her instead of me”. Writing down the problem and the associated feeling helps externalize the problem and lets one look at it objectively. After the stated expression, it is helpful to destroy the paper by either tearing into pieces or burning it (under adult supervision). Your child can even make an airplane out of it and let them see it fly farther away from them, thereby signalling the problem is moving away from their lives.
  • Deep breathing – Deep breathing is not just a fad. Breathing exercises can actually help calm our nerves and release the stress from the body. Deep breathing helps increase the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. There are plenty of fun and easy YouTube videos that can be watched together to guide them.
  • Grounding Technique – A lot of experts recommend guiding the kids towards the 5-4-3-2-1 method when they are experiencing heightened levels of stress. This technique can help alleviate the pressure being faced and make it seem a lot more manageable. Here is how it works. As soon as you realize that the child is feeling anxious or seems to be losing control of their emotions, tell them to SEE 5 things: It can be anything from a pencil or eraser at their desk to a bird or squirrel while you’re out at the local park. If you’re at home, they can look at a family portrait on the shelf or a glass of soda on the dining table. TOUCH 4 things: The child can start with their ears, chin, chest, and other parts of their body if you’re short on time. A stuff toy, blankets, edge of a chair, curtains, etc can fit this step. HEAR 3 things: Have the child focus on external noises. Examples include the horn of a car, the sound of the washing machine running, or a dog barking. If you’re at the park, they can listen to the sound of kids running, laughter, or leaves rustling. SMELL 2 things: This can be tricky as compared to the others, so it’s best to go to a place with different scents versus where you are at the moment. If indoors, you can try smelling the shampoo in the bathroom, a scented candle lying somewhere in the house, or food items in the fridge. TASTE 1 thing: The kids can go with a treat of their choice – it can be the cereal they have for breakfast, or the leftover pizza in the box. This grounding technique helps the children focus on their senses, return their attention to the now, and thereby help them become calmer.

4. Nip the negative self-talk in the bud – Hearing kids get into a negative self-talk mode is heartbreaking. You may hear it happen during instances such as when they are unable to solve an academic problem or build the Lego the way it’s shown in the picture. Parents may hear things like “I am dumb”, “I can never do it right”, or “What is wrong with me”. It’s often our first instinct to jump in and say, “no, you are not stupid”. But that kind of a blanket statement rarely helps the kid whose spirit is a bit shattered at that moment. Instead, it is rather advisable to empathize and acknowledge that what the child is going through is really hard. Make them feel the adults understand them. You may then introduce a spin to the negative self-talk by making them share instances where they actually experienced successes in the recent past. Help them change their sentences to “I cannot seem to do it right yet, but I will eventually get there”, “It seems hard at the moment but I can try again later”. Gradually nudging them to change the vocabulary will allow them to grow into capable and resilient young minds.  

5. Express gratitude - Practice gratitude at home to get in the habit of appreciating little things in life. Have everyone in the family take turns at meal time pointing to 2-3 things they're glad about that day. It could be as little as “I am thankful for my favourite meal being served today” to as big as “I am thankful for my teacher who rooted for me during the drama class”. Encourage them find at least one new thing to be thankful for each day. If you play this with family often, soon the kids will be able to focus on the positive even during challenging times.

6. Make time to play together- Yes, our work lives are hard but ensuring we allocate quality time to play board games, paint, spend time hiking, jump on the trampoline, watch a movie, play an instrument with our kids will go a long way in building their emotional well-being. These activities and moments of togetherness help kids and especially teens feel positive emotions that have a huge potential to offset stress.

7. Do not shy away from seeking help - In case the level of anxiety and stress that your child is facing seems to be unmanageable by the family, or you as parents are yourselves under tremendous pressure and unable to help the kids, it is important to seek external help. A large majority of the schools these days have a dedicated counsellor or a therapist you can talk to and have your kid attend those sessions until the adults have a better handle on the situation.

These are unprecedented times which call for a carefully carved out approach to ensure our kids get the best version of us and are resilient enough to be able to steer clear of situations and emotions which are hard to shake off. We need to work a bit harder to stay present in our kids’ lives, really listen to them and guide them walk a path which builds their confidence and makes them feel safe and secure.