How can you help your kids manage stress? Living in this day and age, stress is a normal part of modern life.
Some types of stress can be helpful, whereas other types of stress can be incredibly debilitating if sustained long-term.
Children may be exposed to some sort of stress everyday. “Good” stress might show up when your child is called on in class or when a task needs to be finished. ‘Tummy butterflies’ or sweaty hands are signs of this and can be helpful to get things done. But “bad” stress can happen if the stressful feelings keep going over time.
Children may not feel well if a family member is sick, if they are having troubles at school or home, if they are going through anything that causes upset everyday, such as just having too many activities – all of these can take their toll. This kind of stress isn’t going to help and it actually can make children sick.
Sometimes stress can be so overwhelming, it feels like it is taking over your child’s life. Thankfully, the body has an amazing, protective stress response system to help your child to cope. The stress response was historically designed to kick in to save lives; nowadays, it may be activated everyday rather than just when coming into contact with a hungry sabre tooth tiger! However, this ongoing activation by the nervous system can lead to symptoms of stress and mood disorders that are becoming increasingly common in children.
Recognising the Signs of Stress
You may already be familiar with some of these signs and symptoms. The following can occur in acute (short-term) stress or with ongoing stress. The presentation will vary depending on the type of stress, how long your child has been experiencing it, and how well they are able to manage stress already. Signs of acute stress can include:
- Muscle tension
- Increased heart rate
- Energy fluctuations
- Sleep disturbances
- Tummy troubles
Getting the Right Tools
When under stress, an overworked stress response system requires even more nutrients than usual. This is because the body needs vitamins and minerals to produce the hormones and neurotransmitters (the brain’s messengers) required to adapt to the stress and bring the body back into balance.
- B group vitamins: B vitamins are needed for healthy mood, motivation and wellbeing. They are vital for producing energy, as well as the neurotransmitters that promote happiness, relaxation and sleep.
- Magnesium: When stressed, the body may require more magnesium than normal. Magnesium can be beneficial for many things including managing stress and improving energy. You may also know that magnesium is used as a muscle relaxant. Due to its relaxing qualities, it may improve mood and sleep. Ask your Naturopath about the best form of magnesium for your child that is both well absorbed and well-tolerated, minimising the risk of potential gastrointestinal effects.
- Taurine and glutamine: These amino acids are required as building blocks for your neurotransmitters. They can also help to calm the nervous system, as well as protect against the damage that stress can cause.
Setting Up the Foundations
Now that you know which nutrients can be great to help your kids manage stress, aiming for a nutritious diet goes a long way to assist your child to maintain the health of their nerves, digestion and immunity long-term. What happens to your child’s diet when stressed? Do they eat a lot, or do they make poor food choices when stress means being short on time, patience or energy?
- During times of stress, sugars and refined carbohydrates are a no no! While they provide quick energy, they do not fuel the body with nutrients it needs to cope with stress, and can ultimately lead to mood and energy fluctuations and even weight gain.
- Protein from fish, lean meats, eggs, legumes and nuts can provide your child with amino acids to fuel their brain function whilst sustaining them for longer, minimising those stress cravings.
- Fish, in particular, contains both protein and essential fats, otherwise known as omega-3 fatty acids which can support a healthy stress response and healthy mood.
- Eating healthy food is a great start, other great ways to encourage your child to handle stress may be:
- Getting enough sleep
- Relaxation exercises such as inhale (breathe in) slowly through the nose, and then exhale (breathe out) slowly through the mouth. Repeat two to four times – anytime!
- Establishing a balance between school stuff and time to play: sleep, exercise, leisure (something fun), and food.
Talk to your Naturopath to help your kids manage stress. How well do they handle stress over time? Signs of ongoing, longer term stress can include:
- Sleep disturbances
- Poor concentration
- Weight loss or gain
- Weakened immunity
Be Strong Against Stress!
With guidance from your Naturopath and these simple tips, your child can stand up to stress – strengthening your children’s mind and body to become more resilient to the effects of everyday stress. Talk to your Naturopath today about how you can best manage the stress that life throws your way.
Written by Paediatric Naturopath, Sarah Harris
Sarah Harris is available for one on one digital consultations. You’re welcome to book in with Sarah.