Children & Stress

stress boysJonathan, an independent worker, gets easily frustrated, struggles with change, tends to over-analyze, and operates with a lot of “What if…” scenarios. Richard, a very social person, procrastinates, rushes through work, sacrifices quality for completion, and struggles focusing.

At least, when overwhelmed or not managing stress well, these descriptions fit my boys aptly. But when they manage their stress and keep balanced, they are very productive and positive.

I often forget to consider my kids’ stress. They are “just kids” and seem to handle stress way better than I do, after all. But when I see the signs and do nothing, I miss out on a valuable parenting opportunity.

Biblical Parenting_scriptureSpecific Kid-Sources of Stress

Based on the lives of my two boys (age 15 & 13), both their own stress as well as what they describe as stress in their friends’ lives, the top areas of stress for kids include: School (grades, homework, tests, etc.); peer pressure; sports; parent pressures (chores, behavior, attitude, etc.); consequences of stupid choices; wanting to relax; thinking about the future; and divorced parents.

An Immediate Response

Realizing that most kids, and many adults for that matter, tend to react to stress without first thinking, a stress-management approach for kids must be sort of programmed into their brains (in the spirit of Deuteronomy 6:7). Keeping this in mind, I always ask them the following questions when they struggle with a stressful situation:

What can you do about it?
What can’t you do about it?
Who/what can you control/not control?
Who/what can you change/not change?

We also usually address the “fairness” issue, since kids often dwell here. They need to know that life isn’t always fair.

In addition to getting our boys to realize they can only control themselves and their reactions, we also try to provide stress-relieving activities or approaches for managing stress. Those include giving them a venue to talk out what’s on their minds and making sure they have enough physical activity and leisure time. We also make sure to have lots of family time as well as to provide structure that suits the child. And of course, consistency blankets all of these.

A Biblical ResponseTitus 2

Advice on teaching our kids anything lies incomplete and ineffective without integrating what Scripture says about  preventing, managing and eliminating stress for our kids. With that in mind, lets make a somewhat unique application of some very familiar parenting verses.

  1. Don’t exasperate & discourage them. (Colossians 3:21) So often, my kids’ stress comes from or is made worse by my own poor stress management.
  2. Give them skills to deal with their feelings. (Proverbs 1:8-9) Be available to listen & to talk.
  3. Teach them ways to relieve stress. (Proverbs 22:6) Include them in your own stress relievers when possible.
  4. Tell them why managing stress is important. (1 Peter 5:3) Use yourself as an example.
  5. Model positive stress management. (Titus 2:7-8) Make sure what you say matches what you do.

I want my kids to realize that stress is not always bad. In fact, we need stress to grow and thrive. Take the amoeba – the most basic of life forms – for example. Scientists introduced it into a completely stress-free environment in a petri dish. What happened? The amoeba died. But when placed in a “normal” environment with all its challenges, the amoeba multiplied and thrived.

The same happens, essentially, with us. Without stress, we fail to thrive and grow. Plus, a stress-free life isn’t possible anyway.

Doesn’t good parenting, then, involve teaching our kids how to prevent, manage and relieve stress? Aren’t we living out what Scripture says when we train our kids to handle the inevitable in life to allow them to truly be not only productive and positive but to do so in a way that honors God and points others to Him?

12 thoughts on “Children & Stress

  1. I think one of the things we do kari which is so unfair, is expecting kids to act like grown ups. Or sometimes we want them to grow up too fast and don’t allow them to be kids. Talk about adding stress!!
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      • Really hard to say. I think we want them to act like grown ups because it might reflect on us if they don't. I think we forget what it was like and what it means to be a kid. Take, for instance, when a father dies and we tell the little boy, "he is the man of the family now. I think we do a great disservice to that young boy. He is a child. He should be allowed to act like one and cry like one.

        • Perhaps your example speaks to why so many young men struggle today. They were never allowed to be kids. I think it is pride on our part and that we think they reflect on our character. Perhaps, as you said, we just don't remember and think it needs to end for them too like it did for us. My oldest at 15 is still very child-like, and I think that's one reason we don't have any major issues with him right now. The question then becomes, "What can we do about it?" I need to answer this dilemma with my youngest right now.

  2. This is great info. I only have a toddler but I’m already asking God to help me teach him how to cope with emotions and I ask God to show me how to be a better parent. I don’t want my stressful days to spill over to my kiddo, daily I am learning that I need God more and more.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Great practical advice and spiritual insight. It seems kids in our society are becoming more stressed and less capable of dealing with it. Leads down some dark roads that can be avoided. Thanks for this, Kari.
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  4. I do think it is important to help our children that life can be rough and a lot of times things will not seem fair. While teaching them this we also must help them choose how they will react to this. It does no good to scream and fight and complain against that which is rough or unfair. To choose the road that makes us respond the best we can under whatever circumstances exist is the lesson I know we all want to impart. Not only do we tell them this we must model it as well. To we complain; do we whine, do we rail against that which is unfair or do we plan the hand we are dealt the best it can be played?? That is what I want my kids to do and that is to play whatever hand they are dealt the best it can be played with the best attitude possible. Doing this will impart a certain confidence and peace in their lives I think.

    • So right! We not only need to give them advice, but we need to live it out. What we say doesn't matter if it contradicts what we do. Our attitude in all of it makes a huge difference too. I like what you said about imparting confidence & peace in their lives too. That will go a long way in helping them to be brave in a really tough world.

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