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Healthy Habits

Top Tips to Help Your Child Manage Stress

Families can adopt these strategies to manage stress and learn coping skills.
5 min read
April 8, 2021
Susan O'Neill
Board-Certified Family Nurse Practitioner
Susan has experience in cardiovascular intensive care, urgent care, and family practice. She believes children are the future, and we must protect, provide, and nourish their minds, bodies, and spirits.

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For our second article for Stress Awareness month, we’re sharing tips to help manage stress for every member of your family. If you haven’t had a chance, read part one of our series, Understanding Stress, to learn what stress is and how it can impact your physical and emotional health.

When it comes to stress, it’s important to identify the things we can control and focus on those areas. By taking charge of what’s within your control, parents can help proactively manage stress for teens and children. 

Plan mornings ahead of time to set the tone for the day.
Mornings can be hectic.  However, setting the tone for the day can set your child up for a better day.  Wake your child up early enough to allow a few minutes of quiet time before rushing out the door. Before bedtime, have your child pick out their clothes for the next day, and encourage them to put all their school supplies or homework/projects in their book bag near the door, so they don't forget them.

Be mindful not to over schedule children’s calendars.  
After months inside due to the pandemic, you may be tempted to fill your child’s schedule once it’s safe, but remember that a busy lifestyle can be overwhelming.  Even activities that children enjoy can be stressful if it takes up too much of their time.  Remember children need to take care of their SELF (Sleep, Exercise, Leisure (fun), Food).

Set clear and consistent expectations without being overly strict.
A child getting a perfect score on a test is less important than their well-being. The pressure some children feel to be perfect can be the source of enormous stress in their lives. By defining realistic and consistent expectations across activities, school, and social life early, you can help your child work toward agreed goals. 

Even when families work together to minimize stress, many stressors will be entirely outside of your control. When this happens, you can try some of the following methods to help manage these feelings.

Acknowledge your child’s feelings.
Sometimes talking about feelings of stress can be helpful to reduce the stress. If your child is having an emotional reaction to stress, let them know you sense they are angry, sad, or nervous about something, and allow them to express their feelings. Help them to understand that it's okay to feel upset. In our current pandemic circumstance, even teens may be struggling with acknowledging and defining feelings. Check out this helpful resource to help your family identify and explain their feelings here.

Listen and be supportive of your child’s issues.
Based on their age, allow them to make some decisions on how to resolve their problems if appropriate. This can be something like taking a break from math homework to take a walk or deciding to ask a teacher for more help. Meanwhile, let them know you’re there to help if they need you. 

Let your child know that mistakes can be learning experiences.
When your child gets stressed about not meeting a goal or making a mistake, you can let them know that some mistakes are a part of growing up. As they mature, they will learn from their mistakes, and those learning experiences will help them in the future.

Show your love, be warm, and hug your child often.
Remind them that they have your shoulder to lean on when they are stressed, and you will always help them and support them.

Work together to build coping skills.  

Building coping skills can help us deal with stress because some stress is unavoidable.

It’s important to practice coping skills with children to help them address stress, calm themselves down, and cheer themselves up. You can try some of the following techniques to help children manage their emotions.

Lead by example.
When you become stressed, try to show an appropriate level of reaction for things that stress you out. Show them how you handle your stress. Let them know what you do when you’re stressed out.  (ex: draw, read, meditate, deep breathing, take a long walk).

Teach your children about positive and negative consequences.
Kids learn to echo behaviors they learn at home.  So, if they finish their chores, they may get more screen time or an allowance.  If they hurt their sibling, they may end up in time out or lose some privileges. These examples can prepare them to understand reactions and cope when they make mistakes.

Allow some decision-making.
As mentioned earlier, giving a child autonomy can be vital to managing emotions. Offering children/teens age-appropriate choices gives them a sense of control.  Simple things like choosing a favorite meal once a week, rearranging furniture in their room, or choosing when to complete certain chores can give children a sense of independence.

Help children identify and define emotions.
Children need to be aware of their feelings and express them to cope with emotions. If a child feels sad and that emotion makes it hard to fall asleep, you can help them connect those feelings to the physical response. This is an essential first step to take when coping with emotions. 

Work together to problem-solve what is causing stress.
Being proactive about any stress you anticipate can be helpful to stop it before it starts. Think about ways you can make changes so you can decrease that stressful situation from happening.  Speak to your child, their teacher, and members of your family when you think there may be an upcoming stressful situation, and see if there are ways to work together to minimize those emotions.  

If your child becomes overwhelmed or stressed, you can try to work through those moments together with these breathing exercises.

Falling Out Breath- This is a great way to release physical stress in the body.

  1. Take a deep breath and fill your lungs with as much air as possible. 
  2. At the very end of that long deep breath, take one more sip of air.
  3. Then, breathe out and let out a big sigh (noise, so you can hear it!) as you let out all the air from your lungs. 
  4. Repeat. Start out with two minutes, but you can keep doing it until you start feeling better.

Emptying Breath- This is a great way to calm nerves.

  1. Take a deep breath (inhale) to the count of three.
  2. Breath out (exhale) slowly to the count of six, and focus on letting out as much air as you can.
  3. Repeat.  Start out with two minutes, but you can keep doing it until you start to feel better.

These tips are easy to weave into your every day. The more you practice these behaviors, the more natural they will become, and the easier it will be to help your child manage stress.  In part three of our stress series, we’ll share some signs that your child may need additional help dealing with stress.

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Parent Story
A father was concerned when his son was showing COVID-19 symptoms. His school uses Hazel, so he was able to contact a Hazel doctor from home.

The Hazel provider recommended he get a COVID-19 test and shared resources to help find a testing center in their area. The father was eager to help his son feel better and appreciated being able to quickly get answers and advice.
Nurse Story
A student came into the nurse's office with a sprained ankle. After icing her foot, she still was in pain, so the nurse called Hazel. Thankfully, her family had provided consent for over-the-counter pain relief because she was able to take some medicine and return to class feeling better.

After the visit, the Hazel provider reached out to the school nurse to check on the student’s injury. The nurse shared that the student’s ankle was improving, and she appreciated the follow-up.
Parent Story
A mother noticed her son was getting low on his asthma medication. She tried to schedule a visit with his doctor to refill his prescription, but no appointments were available. She didn’t want her son to run out of medicine, so she reached out to Hazel.

The provider was able to send the refill to a local pharmacy within one day. The mother was happy that her son would have the medicine he needed. She was also amazed at how easy and fast the entire process was.
Student Story
A student was coughing and sneezing a lot, but her family wasn’t sure if she was sick or had allergies. Thankfully, her school used Hazel, and they could get an answer.

After talking with the school nurse and the Hazel provider about her symptoms and medical history, the student was happy to find out it was likely allergies. She got some medicine and returned to class feeling better.
Student Story
During the pandemic, a high school student was having a hard time coping. She was sad about COVID-19 impacting her senior year, and she was worried about the state of the world. The student was also struggling with some personal conflicts, and she felt she didn't have the right support at home. After discussing her feelings, a Hazel doctor connected her with resources that she described as “life-changing.” She was very grateful and shared that she didn't know where to go for help before Hazel.
Parent Story
Shortly after COVID-19 began, a student began to develop tics. Her parents took her to a neurologist, but they wanted to get her into counseling as well. The student’s mother was having a hard time finding answers to her questions and didn’t know where to start the process, so she turned to Hazel.

The Hazel doctor listened as the mother shared her concerns and frustrations. Hazel reassured her that they would find the right services for her child. After the initial visit, the Hazel doctor partnered with the school counselor and the student’s mother to identify resources and counseling services that are a good fit.
Student Story
A student came into the nurse’s office because his vision went blurry. The Hazel doctor looked at his eyes, but he did not see any injury. As he asked him questions about his symptoms, he started to sense that he was down about something. After a few minutes, the student shared that he was really sad because his mom was recently diagnosed with cancer. He explained that he feels worried, and it’s hard for him to focus.

Hazel called home, and the student’s mother confirmed her diagnosis. They discussed how to help manage the child’s stress, and Hazel offered to connect the child with counseling resources through the school. The mother was very grateful for the guidance and was eager to get her child help during a stressful time.
Counselor Story
Hazel Health has been integral this year in getting our students the mental health services needed to help them live healthy lives.  The staff has been attentive, prompt, and resourceful. There is an evident sense of caring for the work they do and the students they serve. It has been a pleasure partnering with Hazel Health in providing mental wellness for our Garland ISD families.