Stressed-Out Kids

How to help kids cope with stress as they go back to school

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

School children have plenty to stress about, from their studies to friends to news to their family’s own struggles. It’s unhealthy — not to mention impossible — to eliminate all sources of stress.

Local experts shared how you can help your children better cope with stress.

• “Be involved with their lives.

• “It’s OK to set boundaries. That’s what the child wants them to do and they don’t realize it. Parents have to absolutely stay involved and know what’s going on.”

Roz Odin, pediatrician with Child Health Care Associates in Liverpool,

• “One of the most important things parents can do is model wellness, healthy living and balanced living. That means that you’re showing and living that life. It’s not just what you say.

• “There are plenty of coping skills kids can use in times of stress, but I really encourage parents to show their kids in their own way. It’s not working yourself to death and never having fun. Are you choosing healthy coping mechanisms? Kids area always watching.”

• “I encourage parents to provide structure, a framework for kids. Set up their daily activities or routines so they know what to expect. There’s comfort in that which can eliminate unpredictability. That includes healthy eating, healthy sleeping schedules.

• “Kids are generally overscheduled these days. When do they have downtime? Don’t have them pick three sports. They should pick their favorite. There should be time for what’s really important like schoolwork, tutoring, exercise and fun. That’s ultimately a way we release stress: hanging out with friends or playing games.

• “Family mealtime is time for connection during the day. There’s a direct link between human connection and mood. One of the best ways to de-stress is to connect.

• “Let them know that no matter what, they can talk with you about things. If you don’t have that relationship, it will be hard for kids to come to you when stressed and things aren’t going well for them.

• “We never want to see our kid struggling, but when they go through challenges, those are learning opportunities. Those can be challenging, yet important learning opportunities.

Lindsay Rowe, licensed clinical social worker at St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center and in private practice in Syracuse

• “It’s important to find and create a space and time for parents and children to process thoughts and feelings related to the day so kids don’t feel like they have to carry whatever it is that’s bothering them alone. Their parents are a safe place to talk about what’s bothering them.

• “When children feel their parents are a safe place, they’ll feel they can share what’s happened in school in their world. The parents then have the ability to help them navigate it in a healthy and safe manner.

• “Social media: Explore the fact that social media is the space we choose to present to the world. Someone might only post the good things going on in their lives, but everyone has struggles and challenges. Just because they have new shoes and are going on a cool trip doesn’t mean all areas of their lives are perfect. It is about teaching children social is only one part of others’ experience. Learn how to set their own boundaries about what they choose to share.

• “Use mindfulness skills to help manage stress when trying to meet the demands of academics and planning for college.

• “Getting outside, taking a moment of fresh air and finding a safe person to talk to, listening to a song that’s calming. things like that.

Leslie Shaffer Hereba, licensed mental health counselor in private practice in Syracuse and owner of Unaome Healing Center in Syracuse.