Guest Expert

Helping Complex Kids Manage Stress in a Stressful World

Helping kids manage stress

In today’s chaotic world, stress is an unfortunate fact of life, for us and our kids. For complex kids, it can be paralyzing. Luckily, Guest Expert Mary Anne Richey has a few effective strategies for helping complex kids manage stress.

4 Tips for Managing Stress

The “Right Amount of Stress”

According to Richey, there are two types of stress: distress and eustress.

She explains, “Some stress can be very positive and can propel the child forward, giving them motivation and energy to do something they might not necessarily have done.” This is eustress: the “right amount of stress.”

Distress, on the other hand, is negative and overwhelming. “All we know about the brain shows that when [distress] happens, the brain really is not able to function effectively and we’re not able to use problem solving to figure out how to handle things…”

Stress can be useful, but it’s important to find the balance. Too much stress can lead to meltdowns and overwhelm.

What We Can Control

Richey says it’s very important to teach kids that while they can’t always control what happens, they can manage their reactions. As Richey puts it, we can “control our own thought process.” This can be especially helpful when it comes to stressful or traumatic things that happen out in the world, things that we can’t always predict.

Holding onto Stress

In order to control how you process things, it’s important to look at your relationship with stress. Richey has an analogy she uses to show kids the long-term effects of holding onto stress. “If you hold [a glass of water] for a minute, there’s not a problem. If you hold it for an hour, it begins to be aggravating. If you hold it for a whole day, your arm is probably paralyzed.”

Create a Coping Menu

The next step is figuring out what coping mechanisms your child can use if they begin to feel stressed. Richey recommends brainstorming with your child. “Sometimes [kids] are very good sources of information about what helps them cope with [stress].” Richey suggests creating a Coping Menu so your kid can decide how to cope in that moment. “Your child is an individual and might have a good sense of what helps them.”

By working with your child you can discover new coping mechanisms and help them take control. Richey says it’s empowering when kids feel like they are “part of the solution.”

Listen to this inspiring interview for more strategies on how to improve dynamics in your family by helping your complex kid manage stress more effectively.

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