Wake up. Eat cereal. Play with the dog. Ride your bike. While kids may not have the most challenging to-do lists, not every day is a good day. Family dynamics, unstable friendships, current events, worries surrounding school and more can cause stress in even the most carefree child.
According to the American Psychological Association, signs of stress in kids aren’t always obvious. What’s more, kids can’t always verbalize the stress they’re feeling. This is why recognizing changes in behavior as possible red flags is important for helping a child cope with stress and boost their mood.
Signs of stress in kids can include:
- Acting irritable or moody or crying often
- Complaining about frequent stomachaches or headaches
- Withdrawing from activities they once enjoyed
- Expressing worries more than usual
- Complaining about school, friends or other potential stressors
- Acting fearful
- Being clingy with trusted adults
- Sleeping or eating too much or too little
How parents can help kids feel better
If you are worried that your child is feeling stressed, the first step is to talk with them. Using words they may understand better than “stressed,” ask if they feel “scared,” “angry” or “sad.”
If you are afraid your child is experiencing significant stress, talk to their doctor. It may be helpful to work with a mental health professional to identify what is causing their stress and help them learn healthy coping tools.
However, if they’re simply having the occasional bad day, try encouraging the following tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics to help them boost their mood:
- Go outdoors. Try to spend at least 30 minutes outside together each day. But don’t forget sunscreen and water for hydration.
- Get quality sleep. Bedtime routines are important and can help children get enough sleep each night.
- Enjoy a healthy diet. Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids; choose plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains; and limit foods high in sugar, salt and saturated fats.
- Stay connected. Parents can help children learn how to make friends through participation in local classes, playgroups, sports teams or at the playground. And regular visits or video calls with Grandma and Grandpa work too.
- Be creative. Art can be healing. Whether your child likes to play music, draw, paint, sing or perform skits, any form of creativity can bring color to their world.
- Practice gratitude. Join your child in writing down at least three people, places, events or things each day that make you both feel thankful.
- Get moving. Help your child get into a habit of movement each day. From jumping rope to playing tag with a friend, any kind of physical activity can help.
- Help others. Show your child that performing kind acts can help them feel better too. Volunteer together, help them choose belongings for donation, or simply encourage them to wave to a neighbor and watch as everyone involved benefits.
- Put down devices. Limiting exposure to digital screens can help children build healthy habits and free up their time to connect with others, be creative or exercise.
And for the times when you need an instant mood booster, there are always the good ol’ standbys: throw a family dance party, challenge them to a silly face competition, start a bubble-blowing bonanza, or try to one-up each other with a series of knock-knock jokes. These no-fail options are sure to bust a bad mood — and fast.