As hard as we try to let kids be kids it can sometimes be difficult to stop our own stresses seep into our interactions with children. Kids are highly attuned to emotions and can pick up on parental stress. In fact parental stress in early childhood is known to affect children both behaviourally and biologically . The good news is that a few simple activities can help to reduce children’s stress.
Here we list 4:
Mindful Parenting – we’ve all heard about mindfulness and the benefits it has in our own lives but a new area of research is investigating mindful parenting. The aim of mindful parenting is to bring mindfulness techniques such as acceptance and in-the-moment awareness into interactions with children. The widespread benefit of this approach has yet to be validated with full randomized control trials but early results show some promising effects on improving relationships between parents and children and reducing risky behaviours in adolescents [2,3]. Many schools are also starting to introduce mindfulness programmes for children themselves.
Physical Activity – children who are physically active have less extreme responses to stress than their non-active peers, a recent study found . If your child is stressed out or anxious sending them outside to kick a ball around or play chasing with their friends may be a good way to distract them in the short term and help them to build up resilience in the long term.
Play – play is particularly important for helping children to develop cognitively, socially and emotionally. A report on children’s play in 2007 suggested that in the modern world children can be over-scheduled for after-school activities leading in some cases to more stress . Free play with friends can be equally important for reducing stress and building resilience. In addition, an intervention study found that mother-child play for 10 minutes a day, 5 days a week both reduced maternal stress and improved children’s cognitive development . So if you find both yourself and your child are stressed out try some free play time to bring you both back to equilibrium.
Sleep – sleep is important for everyone but it is critical for children, whose brains are still growing and developing. A recent study found that children who had poor quality of sleep had greater stress responses than their peers . Ensuring that your child has a good, stable sleep routine is an important way of helping their brains to develop properly and leave them able to face the challenges of growing up.
1. Essex, M.J., et al., Epigenetic vestiges of early developmental adversity: childhood stress exposure and DNA methylation in adolescence. Child Development, 2013. 84(1): p. 58-75.
2. Turpyn, C.C. and T.M. Chaplin, Mindful Parenting and Parents’ Emotion Expression: Effects on Adolescent Risk Behaviors. Mindfulness, 2015: p. 1-9.
3. Coatsworth, J.D., et al., Changing parent’s mindfulness, child management skills and relationship quality with their youth: Results from a randomized pilot intervention trial. Journal of child and family studies, 2010. 19(2): p. 203-217.
4. Martikainen, S., et al., Higher levels of physical activity are associated with lower hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis reactivity to psychosocial stress in children. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2013. 98(4): p. E619-E627.
5. Milteer, R.M., et al., The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bond: Focus on children in poverty. Pediatrics, 2012. 129(1): p. e204-e213.
6. Tachibana, Y., et al., A new mother-child play activity program to decrease parenting stress and improve child cognitive abilities: A cluster randomized controlled trial. PloS one, 2012. 7(7): p. e38238.
7. Hatzinger, M., et al., Electroencephalographic sleep profiles and hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenocortical (HPA)-activity in kindergarten children: Early indication of poor sleep quality associated with increased cortisol secretion. Journal of psychiatric research, 2008. 42(7): p. 532-543.