Helping kids navigate through family stressors

Without question, Americans are facing challenging times right now.

I don’t need to lay out the stressors that are weighing on farmers, ranchers, and consumers alike, but turn on the news, and you’ll get bombarded with the worst of it — the Delta variant, potential lockdowns, returning recession, inflation, rising prices for food, fuel, and other essentials, natural disasters, and ongoing uncertainty of what the future looks like.

We all cope with stress in different ways.

Some of us go into overdrive, working around the clock to try and beat the stressors we face. We go into hyperactive mode, running on coffee for fuel and ignoring the need for sleep and rest because if we do, catastrophe might strike, and there is the mentality that we need to control the outcomes by outworking and outsmarting the potential roadblocks that lie ahead.

Others shut down. Depression leads to fatigue and the inability to be productive. Anxiety, sadness, worry, and exhaustion cloud our minds and lead to brain fog. Getting through each day is a challenge. Focusing on one foot in front of the other each day is the victory, and looking forward to the months and years to come is overwhelming and only tires us more.

Of course, there are many responses to stress in between these two outcomes. Stress can also lead to rage and angry outbursts, isolation and solitude away from community and friends, self-sabotaging at work, divorce, abuse, and suicide.

And no matter what the stressor is or where we land on the scale of how we cope with life’s day-to-day challenges, it’s always good to remember that how we respond to negativity and hard things is being observed by our loved ones — in particular our children.

One day, they will mirror our responses to stressors, and the things we do today can help lay the foundation for healthy coping methods and responses for the hard things they will face throughout their own lives.

Audry Rider, an early childhood field specialist for South Dakota State University, recently tackled this topic in an article titled, “Helping kids cope and understand family stressors.”

In this article, she writes, “How children experience traumatic events and how they express their lingering distress depends, in large part, on the children’s age and level of development. Preschool and young school-age children exposed to a traumatic event may experience a feeling of helplessness, uncertainty about whether there is continued danger, a general fear that extends beyond the traumatic event and into other aspects of their lives and difficulty describing in words what is bothering them or what they are experiencing emotionally. You are their biggest influence, and they will model your reactions and how you handle your emotions.”

Citing, she offered these tips for helping kids handle stress:

1.Encourage dialogue. She says, “Listen to your kids. Ask them about their feelings. Validate their concerns.”

2.Answer questions. “Give just the amount of information you feel your child needs,” she advises. “Clarify misunderstandings about risk and danger.”

3.Be calm and reassuring. She recommends, “Discuss concrete plans for safety. Have children and teens contribute to the family’s recovery plan.”

4.Shut off the TV! Rider writes, “News coverage of disasters creates confusion and anxiety. Repeated images may lead younger kids to believe the event is recurring. If your children do watch TV or use the internet, be with them to talk and answer questions.”

5.Find support. “Whether you turn to friends, family, community organizations or faith-based institutions, building support networks can help you cope, which will, in turn, help your children cope,” she says.

As families prepare for sending kids back to school and navigating through the unknowns of what the school year might look like, now is a good time to have important conversations to address any worries they might have, as well as to make a commitment as a family to establish a normal, healthy routine that protects, nourishes, and values every member of the family.

Amanda Radke


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