April is National Stress Awareness Month. While most adults are aware of the stress in their lives, it is important to remember that kids feel stress too. It could be from big stressors, like divorce, moving to a new home, or a death in the family. Stress could also be something that we may see as “smaller”, but still significant in the eyes of a child, like something mean that was said to them at school, not having enough time to get ready in the morning, or losing their favorite toy. It is important that we teach kids how to deal with stress in their lives so they can have happy, healthy, and calm lives.
Here are some stress relief techniques for kids:
1. Identifying stress in the body
Even though we all talk about stress and being stressed, it is actually an abstract concept that can be difficult to define for kids. It isn’t something you see, but something you feel. The source of stress is different for everyone.
When I talk about stress with kids, instead of trying to define it, I focus on how stress makes the body feel. If they are feeling stressed currently, ask them where they feel it. Clenched teeth? Upset stomach? Tight shoulders? Headache? Identifying where they hold stress will help kids notice when they are stressed and when they need to do something to relieve it.
To explain the difference between stress and relaxation, I ask them to first tighten and squeeze every muscle of their body (i.e. put “stress” on their body), and then make every muscle soft (i.e. relieve their stress).
Kids may be sedentary at school with little time for recess or PE. When they come home, they may be in front of a TV, computer, or doing homework. Movement is one of the best ways to burn off stress. My recommended movement of choice, of course, is yoga! Not only does it strengthen muscles and increase flexibility, but its mind/body connection is an added stress reliever. There are so many kids yoga resources now, including this great dinosaur-themed DVD from Gaiam with Jodi Komitor and these Kids Yoga Stories. For information on yoga poses, try Lisa Flynn's Yoga for Children or Marsha Wenig's YogaKids book.
Kids can learn to notice their breath. If they aren’t exercising, but they are breathing rapidly, they are probably anxious and stressed. Use a breathing ball (Hoberman Sphere shown above) to play with and teach how to take deep slow breaths. Or have kids lie down on the floor, put their hand on their bellies, and take big, slow breaths.
4. Guided Imagery
Using guided imagery helps bring the mind to a relaxing peaceful place. The body responds accordingly and relaxes too. When you imagine a tropical vacation, your body feels like it is on that tropical vacation. Use a guided meditation or relaxation story to help guide kids to a relaxing state of mind. My two books, Imaginations and Imaginations 2, include relaxation stories written specifically for kids. Or simply ask them to imagine a place that makes them happy and calm.
5. Essential Oils
Lavender and chamomile oils are known for their relaxation properties and are an easy way to make a room feel more relaxing. Diffused in the air, spritzed on a pillow, or dropped onto a cotton ball and put in a shirt pocket are all ways to ease stress and promote relaxation.
There is something soothing about a routine. Having structure and routine can soothe stress by taking away some of the fear and anxiety of “what’s coming next”. At home, a regular morning routine like this one can help the day run more smoothly. In a classroom, having a mini-relaxation session before a test and after recess can make transitions flow more easily and reduce stress for kids. In a yoga class, always ending with Savasana and relaxation is an important stress reliever before sending kids back out into the world.
7. Get out in Nature
Have kids do yoga outdoors, go for a nature walk, or just lie in the grass. Take deep breaths of fresh air together, and hug a tree.
8. Mandala Coloring
Kids love coloring, so give them something meditative to color. The symmetrical and repetitive pattern of a mandala clears the mind and helps kids relax. I’m always amazed by the shift in energy in a kids yoga class when I pull out the mandala coloring pages and crayons. So simple, but so relaxing. Find a few here.
Doing nice things for other people helps take us out of our own worries and helps us focus on helping someone else. Encourage kids to do things for others through service projects, random acts of kindness, or reaching out to friends and family in need.
10. Model Stress Awareness
Don’t feel like you need to hide stress from kids. I think it is healthier to admit to kids when you are feeling stressed than acting like superwoman. Verbally acknowledge your stress and demonstrate doing something about it.
“I was in a lot of traffic to get to yoga class, and now I feel a little stressed. I am going to take a few deep breaths so I can focus… Okay, now I am ready to teach.”
“Today was a busy stressful day. I need to do a little yoga to make me feel better. Will you do some with me?... Ah, that’s better now.”
“I am feeling stressed from working on my computer all day. My body needs a walk and some fresh air… I feel so much better after my walk!”
Let’s model stress awareness all month and help the kids in our lives learn to deal with their stress too!