Whew, has it been a crazy year so far for our kiddos or what? It’s been a stressful time for all of us, but little ones are not as equipped to deal with life’s stresses as we are. I’ve been keeping an eye on this with my own children, so I wanted to share some of the amazing activities I’ve found to relieve stress in kids.
What Does Stress Look Like in Kids?
To start with, we have to identify what stress looks like in young kids. Can they even get that stressed, I mean all they do is play all day? The answer is a resounding YES. Our kids are absorbing all the energy we put out there and know more about what’s going on than we realize, good or bad.
Stress in children may look different than it does for us; they aren’t necessarily super moody and might not even seem sad! According to Kids Health, many times stress shows up as a regression of some type, such as starting to wet the bed again or thumb sucking. It can even manifest as a stomach ache!
As far as changes to look for emotionally, stressed kids might start having nightmares or becoming clingier than usual. They’re needing more reassurance and may try to get it in both positive and negative ways. You know your own child best, so only you can determine if a behavior is abnormal for them and could be a sign of stress.
How Can We Help Our Kids Through Difficult Times?
As much as life seems to be full of chaos and uncertainty right now, it’s far from the only time our kids will feel stressed. It’s important for us as parents to have tools to help them build resilience. A big part of that is offering healthy ways to cope!
Research + experience have taught me some of the best types of activities to relieve stress for kids. Those include: sensory, active, and reading/writing. In addition to all that, having a healthy diet and a strong bond with YOU, their parent, is key.
Sensory Activities for Stress
Sensory play, simply put, is any activity that engages the senses. That shines a light on how important it is, since pretty much everything we do involves sight, sound, taste, touch, or hearing! But it’s also a great way to calm your child when they are stressed or anxious.
When kids are focused on an activity that is repetitive, feels good, or looks calm, it helps them to feel calm as well. Playing with toys or electronics can be overstimulating to a stressed child, so letting them relax their senses is important.
Think of it as the difference between going to a busy shopping mall versus watching the waves in the ocean, or the trees sway in the wind. Going shopping may be really enjoyable for you (we’re talking kid-free, of course ha!), but all the people buzzing around can be a sensory overload.
Then considering the other two scenarios where you can engage your senses at a slower, calmer rate… you can see how that type of sensory play is helpful for kids.
Here are several posts with great DIYs to easily make sensory-friendly activities for your kids:
– Homemade Playdough— add essential oils to this one as well for a calming effect
– Homemade Cloud Dough (like playdough but softer!)
– Combine different sensory experiences in a way your kids can manage themselves with this Calm Down Kit
Working Through Emotions
This one may be a bit obvious, but it’s important for kids to feel comfortable working through their emotions. Something I’ve had to work on for myself is to allow the big emotions to come. Let them cry or be angry as long as they aren’t hurting themselves or anyone else.
There are ways to help them work through these emotions rather than just waiting it out. My 4 year old is notoriously emotional, so I’ve put quite a bit of effort into helping her find healthy ways to deal with her big emotions. Here are some of the ways we’ve tried:
– Talking it out. There’s really no good substitute for plain and simple conversation. Sometimes it helps to talk through stressors to gain a more optimistic perspective, and sometimes it’s just helpful for them to feel heard.
– Asking purposeful questions to check in on them emotionally. Connect with your kiddo and give them the opportunity to open up to you. You might be surprised by some of the answers!
– Journaling. This can be a powerful way for them to get those emotions out. For kids that can’t write, like mine, have them draw a picture to express what they’re feeling.
– Reading. Finding books that are relevant to what they’re going through can help them work through the situation. I got my daughter some big sister books before my son was born and she loved how they put being a big sister in such a positive light
Physical Activites for Stress
Another great way to blow off steam is to literally work it out. Exercise is an AMAZING activity for kids relieve stress. And it’s no surprise since they always seem to have so much energy to burn!
There are many adults who love running or going to the gym to keep stress at bay. I personally find these people to be insane, it’s ok though we can still be friends!! Haha. But even getting active in ways that aren’t directly related to fitness can still help our kids’ (and our own) mental health.
Here are some physical ways for your kids to cope with any stress they may be feeling:
– Go for a walk
– Get enough sleep each night
– Try to spend some time outside each day
– Practice mindful breathing
– “Just add water”: take a bath, play with the hose, sit down and have a glass of water, etc.
– Dance to some fun, upbeat songs
– Exercising is of course a wonderful stress relief for kids, and there are so many fun variations to choose from! This list includes 100 P.E. style activities you can do at home
Healthy lifestyle and family life
Eating healthy has a huge impact on our emotions. It’s too easy to form a negative connection between food and stress, so it’s important to start healthy habits early. In addition to eating healthier in general, there are actually certain foods that are better at relieving stress!
Above all the other suggestions, the most important tool you can give your kids is a close connection with YOU. The value of knowing their parents have their back and love them unconditionally can go miles towards helping kids through any storm.
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That’s not to say if your kids are stressed you “aren’t loving them enough.” They will still get stressed, that’s life and no amount of love can prevent that. But when you incorporate the different ideas mentioned above, especially the ideas to work through emotions, it will mean more and be more effective if you have a good foundation in your relationship.
It reminds me of that quote from Catherine M. Wallace, “If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.”
Make sure you are a safe haven for your kids to come to
As we all navigate through these extra stressful times, I hope these suggestions help you. Some of these activities may be more helpful to relieve stress for certain kids than others. Find what works for your own child to make them feel better.
For example, earlier I joked that people who run are insane (I stand by it). That is not a stress relief for me, but it’s an AMAZING option for other people. I would prefer a quiet walk somewhere surrounded by nature. Your kids will have their own preferences, so find what works!
And let me leave you with this important point. If you feel your child’s (or your own) stress is too big too handle yourselves, please talk to a professional. The stigma around counseling is finally starting to fade, and let me tell you from personal experience how HEALING it can be. Find someone who specializes in working with children and let them help.
I hope these activities to relieve stress in kids help you to have a happier and more peaceful home!