Preteen stress? Here are some actionable tips to help your child through it.
First off, there’s nothing wrong with your preteen if they experience stress. It’s the natural way of life. Secondly, your middle schooler being stressed is not a reflection of your parenting skills in any way. It simply means your little one needs a little help getting through this rough patch, and isn’t that what parenting is all about? Great! Let’s dive in…
Let your preteen talk it out.
Now this first tip may seem a little obvious, but we can’t overlook its effectiveness. Remember all those stressful situations you experienced as a preteen and how healing you found talking to someone else to be? Actively listening to your child can have a similar effect for them too. Sit with your middle schooler and let them explain in their own words what’s troubling them. If your preteen isn’t ready to talk about their feelings, it’s important that you not try to force them. Try not to take it personally though. This is simply your preteen’s way of establishing their independence. Let them know you’ll always be there for them and that you’re okay with them talking to a trusted adult friend or relative about what’s on their mind. Sometimes having an empathetic ear to offload your troubles to is all that’s needed to soothe anxiety.
Help your preteen adjust their expectations.
Stress often sets in when we don’t meet our own expectations or aren’t able to achieve what we think others expect from us. If it turns out the source of your preteen’s stress is the result of them struggling to meet the goals they’ve set for themselves, they may need your help in adjusting their expectations. One way you can do this is to work with your child to create manageable microgoals. That way, rather than thinking about nailing that big-picture accomplishment, your child focuses on achieving the smaller nuggets of progress, going after the big goal one step at a time.
Brainstorm coping strategies.
Learning to manage stress is an important skill that will serve your child well throughout their life. If your child is normally creative, they may find that painting, drawing, or writing helps relieve their anxiety. If they are more crafty than artsy, suggest any of these activities or search for tween crafts online. When they have engaged in their chosen activities, you can ask questions like: “Did (insert chosen activity here) help you feel better?” or “How do you feel when you’re doing this activity?” Doing this will help your child identify coping strategies that can help them when they’re feeling stressed, frustrated, or overwhelmed.
Encourage your preteen to develop healthy routines.
An anxious child may find activities like waking up early for school, attending after-school activities, and even daily hygiene practices as exhausting responsibilities. In such cases, encouraging your preteen to develop healthy routines can help them better manage their existing schedule, creating a less stressful lifestyle. You can get your child an alarm clock or ask them to go to bed earlier if they struggle with getting up in the morning. If multiple after school activities are causing their anxiety, help them identify items on their schedules that can be under-prioritized or even eliminated completely to make room for more planned downtime. Talk openly and honestly about the importance of good personal hygiene with your preteen. Encourage your child to make simple things like brushing their teeth part of their morning and bedtime routines. And when your child successfully sticks to their routines, take time to highlight that accomplishment. This positive reinforcement encourages repetition of healthy behavior.
Examine your family life and routines.
Make time in your family routine for things that your child enjoys and finds relaxing. This can be as simple as listening to music, reading a book, or even dancing in the sprinklers together on a hot summer afternoon. Taking an active time-out from school stress is a great way to refocus your middle schooler’s thoughts and energy. It also lets them know that taking a break from time to time isn’t laziness; it’s actually a healthy habit, particularly when you’re dealing with feelings of stress and anxiety.
Schedule your health and dental appointments early.
In times of stress, preventive care appointments can fall through the cracks, but that’s when your preteen needs them the most. Side effects of anxiety have a way of going unnoticed by everyone except medical professionals. Your dentist, for instance, would be the first to know whether or not your preteen’s stress has resulted in nighttime teeth grinding that has accelerated the wear and tear on enamel or created orthodontic changes in your child’s bite. Scheduling your dental appointments early also saves you from having to remember them when you’re helping your preteen cope with stress. Finally, remember to take time to handle your stress as well. The better you care for yourself, the better you’ll be able to help your preteen.