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8 Stress Management Activities for Kids

8 Stress Management Activities for Kids
February 28, 2020 Stephanie Esser

8 Stress Management Activities for Kids

 

“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” 

~Mark Twain

How can we help build stress management for kids to find relief from stress, worry, and anxiety? Is it possible to learn effective stress-management strategies they can use throughout their life? The good news, YES! We all worry – and a little worry can be a good thing (since it brings our attention to situations that might need it). But when worry leads to stress and anxiety, it can start to interfere with mood, social interactions, and schoolwork. That’s when our kids need to learn new stress relief strategies.

Start by Teaching Kids About Stress

The first step to stress management for kids is to help them understand what stress, worry, and anxiety actually are. They can think of it as their built-in alarm system that scans the environment for potential threats.

Remind your child that experiencing stress is a part of being human and that handling worry takes practice.

Therefore, the best way to help your child is to listen to their worries and validate their concern, but also provide them with tools for stress relief.

Work together with kids to develop a daily routine to practice stress management techniques that work for them. (Not all strategies work for every child, so empower them with a choice on what works in their mind and body.)

According to Psychology Today,

“The goal is not to take away all of the things that cause even mild stress in children but to help them handle it. Avoiding everything that causes your child concern can inadvertently make them more anxious. Of course, throwing them in the deep end doesn’t help either. The art of helping children handle worry is finding the correct dosage for your child or teen.”

Below, I share some of the best stress management ideas for kids. These techniques can help your child cope with worries and fears. Discover one or two that they can incorporate into their daily routine – and keep it simple, fun, and consistent!

1. Do a Sensory Check “Body Scan”

The body scan is a deep investigation into what the body is feeling in the present moment. It’s a great stress relief technique that helps kids get into their bodies and to remind them that they are in the driver’s seat.

It’s important for kids to realize that nothing is permanent. Help them connect with the sensations in their body and learn to trust that it won’t last forever. This is a powerful tool to help kids with stress management.

The body scan helps reduce stress and anxiety. We spend much of our time living outside of the body while being preoccupied with thoughts of the future or the past.

The body scan invites the observer into the inside world to notice sensations, thoughts, and emotions as they happen. By becoming aware of how stress feels in their bodies, kids can learn when they need might need to use other stress relief techniques, too.

Try this 11-minute body scan for kids by Mindful.org

2. Start a Worry Journal

 

Sometimes it’s easier to write about a problem than to talk about it. A worry journal is a great stress management strategy that helps kids process difficult feelings. Journaling teaches kids how to express themselves freely and work through their problems in a safe and honest way.

There are so many fun journals to choose from, but if your child loves to create, they might enjoy designing their very own.

How a worry journal helps with stress relief:

  • It will encourage daily contemplative practice.

  • It’s convenient – you can take it anywhere!

  • It’s not graded or judged.

  • It can help kids solve the problem.

  • It can help kids focus on the positive and reframe their thinking.

  • It will help kids identify the emotions they experience.

 

3. Yoga for Stress Management

 

As a certified RYT200 and Yoga Calm® Youth Instructor and practitioner, I have discovered firsthand the power of movement.

Yoga is an accessible way to release physical tension as well as emotional stress. Prolonged stress and anxiety have a way of manifesting into the body. Yoga helps kids learn how to draw awareness to those sensations in the body and release them in an effective way to relieve stress.

Yoga is a form of exercise that promotes strength, coordination, and flexibility. In addition to those physical benefits, yoga also teaches children how to relax and concentrate on using breathing and mindful awareness. These come together to form a powerful stress relief technique for kids.

Tips to consider when introducing yoga to children:

  • keep it fun

  • practice together

  • wear comfy clothes

  • stay positive

  • praise effort over ability

  • remember to breathe

 

Practice:

Try this 15-minute yoga class for children to decrease anxiety, created for ages 3-12 by Brynne Caleda with Yoga Ed.

4. Breathing for Stress Relief

Read our in-depth belly breathing post here.

 

LONG EXHALE BREATH (long exhales to release excess energy)

Why?

  • Breathing with intention and purpose can help teach our bodies how to self-regulate and develop a healthy stress response.

  • We can use the breath to energize and/or calm the body.

  • When we lengthen the exhale, we release excess energy and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system giving us a calming effect.

  • This makes deep belly breathing a key stress management strategy.

How?

  • Sit or stand up tall and place your BE Buddy™ in front of you or in your hands to rest.

  • Notice how your mind & body feel right now.

  • Next, inhale through your nose (like smelling a beautiful flower) while counting slowly to 5.

  • Expand and fill your belly up with air (like a balloon is filling up in your belly).

  • Next, exhale through your mouth (like blowing out birthday candles) into the BE Buddy’s feathery hair and see how long you can make the hair wiggle in the wind.

  • See if you can make your exhales longer than your inhales.

  • Repeat this 3-5 times.

  • Inhale “relax,” Exhale “let go.”

Reflect:

  • When you are finished, how do you feel?
  • How does it feel in your body after taking long and slow exhales?

Benefits:

  • helps kids learn about their body
  • introduces breath awareness, and how the body feels before and after deep breathing practice
  • brings much-needed oxygen to organs, muscles, and cells
  • helps kids learn how to regulate the mind/body system
  • offers children a sense of control in their bodies to manage stress

 

Shop all six BE Buddy™ characters here!

POP YOUR WORRIES AWAY

  • Sit up nice and tall with your legs crossed.
  • Close your eyes and think of a worry.
  • Imagine that you are chewing bubble gum. (What does it taste like? Does it have a smell?)
  • Take a big belly breath. Exhale and blow your worry into a bubble.
  • Imagine that the bubble pops and the worry disappears.

5. Mindfulness

Worry and anxiety are often caused by thinking about something in the future or the past. You are much less likely to feel anxious if you are focused on what is happening right here, right now… in the present moment.

When you are aware of the present moment, you will see what is happening around you and settle yourself more easily. That is what mindfulness practices teach us and there are some simple techniques you could do anywhere and any time to start your practice.

Try this quick 60-second practice to help you focus on the present moment.

The STOP method:
S = Stop
T = Take a break
O = Observe
P = Proceed

During “observe” ask these questions:

  • What do you see?
  • Can you feel your feet touching the ground?
  • Do you hear any sounds around you right now?

Tuning into your senses is a great way to bring yourself into the present moment. If you make this a daily habit, your body will learn how to manage your thoughts and emotions and will become more adept at stress management down the road.

6. Make a DIY Worry Doll

Making their own worry doll is a creative technique children can use for stress management.

According to Guatemalan legend:

“Worrying is nothing new. It happens to everyone all over the world. Generations ago, the indigenous people of Guatemala created worry dolls as a remedy for their stress.
These are tiny dolls, handcrafted with fabrics from Mayan costumes twisted and tied around small pieces of wood and wire.
It’s all held in place with colorful yarn, which makes up the doll’s head, hair, feet, and hands. At just 2 inches tall, the dolls are small enough to tuck under a pillow.
The tradition is that when worrying keeps you awake, you tell your concerns to the doll, who then does the worrying for you, so you can sleep peacefully through the night.”
 

– by Lissa Coffey; The Legend of the Worry Dolls

Homan at Home Instruction to make your own Worry Doll:

7. Make a Glitter Sensory Bottle

 

This project is often called a “calm down jar” or “sensory bottle” and is a great tool for stress relief. The craft usually includes:

  • a jar, tube or bottle filled with glitter and glue (or oil)
  • add water or sand along with fun objects such as beads

Kids will watch in amazement as the swirls of glitter move at their own graceful pace from one end of the tube or bottle to the other. It’s stress relief at its best!

The glitter is a visual metaphor representing our thoughts and feelings, while the tube represents the mind. When we hold the tube still, the glitter settles, giving the “mind” a break.

The falling process is slower and more controlled when the glue is used as a medium, and the hot water keeps the glitter from clumping.

Once all the glitter finally falls to the bottom (it takes a while, by design), all the kids have to do is flip the bottle and watch the whole process all over again.

This is a great tool for little ones to use anytime they need a short break to “settle their glitter.”

Follow directions here to make your own glitter sensory bottle at home.

8. Art for Stress Relief

 

Art is a magical way of helping kids express emotion and communicate big feelings that they can’t always share in words. Children naturally gravitate towards art as a way to reduce stress and offer a sense of control in their world.

Art is truly a versatile and effective stress management technique. Have you ever seen a child coloring at a restaurant to deal with the stress of waiting for their meal? It really helps!

Material ideas to inspire the artist:

  • crayons/markers
  • tempera paint/watercolors
  • foam and bristle brushes
  • misc. materials: yarn, pom-poms, pipe cleaners, feathers, sequins, glitter, glue, cotton balls, buttons, stickers, etc.
  • items from nature: acorns, leaves, dried berries, etc.
  • old greeting cards, magazine clippings, wrapping paper, construction paper, tissue paper
  • stencils
  • hole punches (they make them in fun shapes and sizes)
  • safety scissors
  • playdough or clay

Adding Tools to Your Stress Management Toolkit

The key to developing a strategy or routine with your child is to offer a variety of options and talk about which stress relief techniques resonate with your child.

Empower them with the choice to share and practice the techniques that work in their body.

In addition to these ideas, there are many other options out there. Each idea is a tool in your toolbox for dealing with stress.

Help your child learn how to self-soothe and regulate their mind/body so that they transition into adulthood with essential keystone habits needed in this day and age.

If you are looking for additional resources to help your child deal with worry or anxiety, I discovered this program (fee-based) that might be worth a look. The program is called Camp Cope-A-Lot and is a 12-module online program for use with children suffering from anxiety. The computer program provides cognitive behavioral therapy techniques (based on the Coping Cat treatment) for 7 to 13-year-old children and teens struggling with anxiety and stress. This program is created by Dr. Philip Kendall and Dr. Muniya Khanna, Temple University & The OCD & Anxiety Institute.

Child Anxiety Tales is built on decades of research on child anxiety and provides parent education on how they can help their child. It teaches cognitive-behavioral principles and gives step-by-step guides on what parents can do at home.

Sign up to join our community to receive monthly newsletters packed with actionable ideas and tips to help your child be calm, confident, and connected.

Thanks for reading,

Stephanie Esser

PS: If you are looking for more resources to help your child build resiliency skills and habits, download the FREE Resiliency Guide for kids today!  This printable 32-page guide is a great resource to help your child develop wellness from the inside out!

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