Kids today are stressed—more stressed than they’ve ever been. The pressure to succeed at school, live up to expectations at home, and perform on social media has taken a toll on their generation, with approximately 6.3 million adolescents and teens struggling with anxiety disorders in the United States alone—a number that’s on the rise and continues to climb.
If you’re a parent, this will come as no surprise. One of the most common questions we get from the meQuilibrium community is, “How can I support my children better?” The best way to protect kids from stress? Give them the tools to manage it by teaching them how to be resilient.
In the spirit of Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, here are five ways to raise resilient kids.
1. Talk the Talk
The way your kids make sense of stress starts at home. Children are observational learners and imitate their parents’ physical, mental, and emotional behavior. This should sound familiar if you’ve ever seen a young child fall and start to cry only after looking up to see their parents’ panicked faces.
One of the most important behaviors you can model for kids is emotion control. When you’re in control of your emotional responses, you’re more resilient, clear-headed, and able to make better decisions–and the same is true for children. So, the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a second to pause and think about what you want your child to learn from the way you react to challenges. Try verbalizing your internal process: For example, say, “I feel angry and need to take a few deep breaths to calm down.” This is the first step towards understanding what you’re thinking and feeling, so you can respond to stress from a place of clarity—and demonstrate to your children how to do the same.
2. Be a Media Mentor
Access to the internet certainly isn’t all bad, but growing up in a digital world is taking a toll on children’s mental well-being. You can help your kids #filter what they see online by having open, non-judgmental conversations with them so that they can process and not just absorb the information they get. Ask them guiding questions about what they see online so that they grow to be critical consumers of media. For example, “What kind of image of himself do you think he is trying to show?” or “Why do you think it feels good to get a lot of likes?” You can also set up media boundaries for your family, such as phone-free dinners, or come up with a media-usage contract together, as recommended by The Family Online Safety Institute, so that your kids get to play an active role in planning. The catch: You have to follow these rules, too! As a parent, modeling these behaviors yourself is important if you expect your kids to follow through on them.
3. Pause for Play
Playtime may seem frivolous, but it’s actually how kids build a lot of their stress-busting skills. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, playtime helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence. Prioritize active play, which is different from passively scrolling through social media or mindlessly playing video games. Examples of active play include making art, editing photos, designing a webpage, or playing a sport—anything where your child is an enthusiastic participant rather than a passive observer.
This doesn’t mean you should add another activity to your children’s schedule: It’s crucial for kids to have time to just be kids. Unstructured playtime also allows them to flex their creative and problem-solving muscles, cultivate their strengths and passions, and gives them the ability to ground and center themselves in times of stress.
4. Practice Positivity
Studies continuously point to positivity as a buffer to stress—and this habit can be cultivated at home. An easy activity to try is Rose, Bud, Thorn. At the end of each day, ask your child to think of one good thing that happened that day (the rose), one thing they’re looking forward to (the bud), and one not-so-good thing that happened during the day (the thorn). Making a regular practice of this will help your child foster an automatic practice of reflection and gratitude that will serve them years down the road.
5. Be Mindful
Yes, you want your child to have a successful future, get into their top school, thrive in their dream career, etc. But as meQuilibrium Co-founder and Chief Science Officer, Andrew Shatté, Ph.D., explains, “It’s important to not always be the parent who’s trying to prep their kid for when they’re eighteen. Rather, it’s crucial that you teach them how to be in the moment.” Shatté recommends taking the time to periodically focus on the here and now. For example, if your child is stressed about studying for an exam on the drive home from school, practice shifting the focus to the sights around them. Without invalidating their feelings, ask them to find one thing on the drive that they appreciate. It could be the sun over the horizon, passing trees, or the feeling of fresh air when you roll down the windows. Resilience is about dealing with success and stress, and mindfulness is a skill that will help them find perspective and ground them in moments of both.
Elior Moskowitz is the Content Coordinator at meQuilibrium. A frequent Cup of Calm contributor, she also writes for various major business journals and lifestyle publications. Elior holds a B.A. in Psychology and English, with special training in both positive psychology and mental health counseling.