When our children are little it is so much easier to dry their tears, soothe away their pain and cheer them up. There’s often an easy way we can fix their problem. There’s not much that a plaster, a magic kiss from Mum or Dad and a big squooshy hug won’t fix. If only if it was just as easy to help when our tweens are stressed.
There’s a saying that you’re only as happy as your unhappiest child. If your child is stressed or hurting, then this can ring very true. More so if you are at a loss as to the best way to help them. While you may not be able to make everything magically better with a plaster, there are still many ways you can help when your tween is stressed.
Bigger kids, bigger stresses
No longer little kids but not yet big ones. This in-between stage can be a testing time for children. It is a time when they are struggling to work out who they are and how they compare to their peers. It is a time when they feel increasingly self-conscious and not quite comfortable in their own skin. They have some bigger challenges too, such as social pressures and schoolwork.
Between the ages of 9 and 12 children are going through changes as they move towards puberty. It’s an awkward stage where some parts of their body are growing faster than others and when their bodies can seem to change overnight. Suddenly they have things like greasy hair and spots to deal with as well as all the other stresses life throws at them.
Considering all the changes that are going on in their lives and their bodies it’s no surprise that tweens can get stressed. And it’s easy to see why a quick hug and a plaster will not magic their pain away.
Sometimes there’s no quick fix
When your older child is stressed it might be a feeling that will not go away overnight. It might be something that they need time to figure out or to get past what is making them feel uncomfortable or upset. When they talk to you about what is upsetting them there might be no quick fix. But that doesn’t mean that there is nothing you can do to support and help them through.
Top tips to help when your child is stressed:
Really listen to them
It’s a natural instinct to want to wade in and try to fix your child’s problems but often what they are seeking is a safe place to vent their feelings. What they want most of all, is for you to listen. To really hear what they are saying and understand how they are feeling.
Try to stay quiet and let your child talk. And be there to listen.
It can help to put into words what you hear your child saying by vocalising their feelings. For example, you might say, ‘I can see this is really making you feel sad and upset. I understand why you feel so hurt.’
Teach them how to practice calm ‘self-talk’
Thoughts and feelings can be overwhelming when your child is stressed. Help them rationalise them and find ways to reduce their anxiety. Ask them, for instance, to think about what is the worst thing that could happen if they do or don’t do a certain thing. Will it end in catastrophe? Chances are that it won’t. Talk them down from the worst case scenario. Help them recognise that, although they are feeling really consumed by their stress right now, things are not as bad as they seem and everything will be OK.
Help them decide what is the next thing they will do
After hearing them out, they might just need help to decide what small step to take next. That might not mean anything to do with resolving the problem directly. It could just be a small thing they can do to make them feel a little better. It could be taking a shower or bath, phoning their best friend or having a hot chocolate and a cuddle. Help them decide what the next thing they will do is and start with that small step.
Reassure them that you will be there for them
When your child is stressed they can feel very alone in their feelings. Reassure them that you love them no matter what and will always be there for them.
Suggest a hug and then ice cream
Little things can mean a lot. After your child has opened up and talked things through, give them a big hug. You could then suggest that you both go out and get pizza or hot chocolate or ice cream. Hugs and plasters worked wonders when your child was little. Cuddles and cake can go a long way to cheering them up when they are a bit bigger too.
Make sure your tween is getting enough sleep and fuel
It’s hard work growing up. Not only are there huge physical changes, which require lots of energy but there’s a mental drain too. We all know how much harder it is to deal with stress when we are tired and how things seem a little lighter when we are well rested. Especially when you notice that your child is stressed make sure that they get enough sleep, rest and energy from nutritious meals and snacks.
Teach relaxation strategies
When your child is stressed it can be helpful to teach them some very practical ways that they can relax. Useful strategies include teaching them deep breathing and guided meditation. There are some great apps that your child could use to help, such as the Calm app. Listening to uplifting music, losing themselves in a book and keeping a journal of their feelings and thoughts can all help too.
Simplify their schedule
Tweens lead busy lives and there is more pressure than ever these days to go and do constantly. This can put a lot of stress on your child and leave little time to relax and unwind. It’s worth taking a look at your child’s week and their schedule. Are there any clubs or activities they would like to stop doing, even just for now? Cutting down on scheduled activities can reduce stress. It can give your child more down time and freedom to play and to just be.
Set aside special time with your child
When our children grow a little older and a little more independent it’s easy for a week to whizz by when you don’t spend much quality time together. Try to set aside regular times where you and your tween can be together. Get rid of any distractions, such as work or phones and make this your special time. Not only can this be great fun and bring you closer together but it can also be a time when your tween can open up and talk to you. The more time you get to talk the easier it is for your tween to flag up how they are feeling and discuss any worries or stresses they have before they build up.