Kim Giltner, MSW, LCSW

Stress Relief for Kids—And You Natural Calming Strategies for Any Age

Stress Relief for Kids—And You
Natural calming strategies for any age

By Ana Mantica
Kenia Bradley used to worry about everything—birthday parties, homework, even who would feed her goldfish, Sternum, during family vacations. So when her Detroit elementary school offered meditation classes 6 years ago, she and her mom signed up—and soon mastered a stress-control technique they're still using today.

"I'm busy," says Kenia, 14, now a freshman at Cass Technical High School. "I've got weekly guitar lessons, club meetings, homework, and eight pets to look after, and I help my dad with the family business as much as I can. But I don't worry like I used to." Her mom, Brenda, agrees. "The whole household is calmer," she says.

Today's kids may or may not face more stress than ever before; experts are divided on that point. But big-kid anxieties seem to be occurring at earlier ages. "Younger children are being pushed to be little grown-ups," says Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD, medical director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, MD. "They have the responsibility to get the grades, do extracurricular activities, and get the test scores." At the same time, they're exposed to their parents' stresses at home, plus the threat of violence at school and of terrorism in the world around them.The result? Anxiety—and more. Stress raises kids' risk for insomnia, skin disorders, headaches, upset stomach, and depression, says Paul Rosch, MD, president of the American Institute of Stress in Yonkers, NY. One recent study even linked childhood stress to overeating fat-laden foods.

If your child seems extra anxious, chances are you are, too. "Children often copy the tendency to get stressed-out from their parents," says Rosch. Set a calmer tone with these three fun, at-home serenity strategies you and your kids can do together.

Just Breathe

Recent studies show that transcendental meditation (TM, the type the Bradley family practices) lifts kids' moods, decreases blood pressure, and may even overcome ADHD symptoms. TM involves twice-daily 20-minute meditation sessions, during which you repeat a single, calming word—your mantra. Another option for kids and families: mindfulness-based stress reduction, which lowers anxiety by teaching you to be aware of your body and mind in a nonjudgmental way at all times. For a quick tension reliever, stop whatever you're doing, sit down, and concentrate on your breathing.

Pop in a Yoga Video Spend half an hour doing Shake Like Jelly, Down Diggety Doggy Down, and other yoga poses adapted for children by Marsha Wenig, founder of YogaKids International. To help kids further relieve stress during yoga, Wenig suggests making noise—the louder and sillier, the better. Try erupting-volcano sounds, a lion's roar, and a snake's hiss.

Read a Bedtime Story It used to take 2 hours for certified children's meditation facilitator Lori Lite, from Marietta, GA, to get her hyperactive son to sleep—until she invented bedtime stories that incorporated deep breathing, muscle relaxation, affirmations, and visualization. Her impromptu stories led her to publish four books, including A Boy and a Bear: The Children's Relaxation Book. Read it, and relax.

Stress Signals

Signs your child may need help handling stress and anxiety:

Preschoolers and Elementary Schoolers: Sudden or extreme shyness, excessive irritability, bedwetting after months or years of dry nights

Teens: Frequent headaches, stomachaches, and trouble handling anger
Published November 2011, Prevention
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