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Young and Stressed Out in Hong Kong: Help Your Child Manage Stress and Thrive

Hong Kong, like most international cities, is highly competitive and extremely fast paced. No one seems to know this better that parents. Our children are educated and socialized in an environment in which friends and classmates are highly focused on academic and social success. This environment is a breeding ground for high levels of stress.

Rather than resign ourselves, we can help our children not only manage stress, but thrive academically and socially. Here are some strategies that will help your child conquer stress:

1)Encourage your child to face stress, not run away from it
When faced with highly stressful situations, we often try to avoid them to feel calmer and more relaxed. However, avoidance of these situations deprives us of the opportunity to learn to cope with stress, especially when it is unavoidable (e.g., taking exams in school). Instead, if a child faces stress, he or she will learn that this negative feeling will decrease on its own over time. Our bodies cannot tolerate stress for very long as there is a mechanism in the body that calms the body down.

2) Tell your child that it is okay not to be perfect
As parents, we often feel that it is necessary for our children to succeed in school, sports and other extracurricular activities. But sometimes we forget that kids just need to be kids. School becomes driven by grades, and not by the enjoyment of learning. For example, we may believe that a B grade or its equivalent is good but not good enough. This is not to say that striving for academic success is unimportant. It is important to encourage your child to work hard but it is equally as important to accept your child’s mistakes and imperfections.

3) Focus on the positives
Often, stressed children get lost in negative thoughts and self-criticism. Children experiencing stress may believe that the glass is half empty instead of half-full and worry about what will happen in the future. The more you can focus on your child’s successes and the positive aspects of a situation, the more your child will remember to focus on the positives.

4) Schedule relaxing activities
Children need time to relax and be kids. Unfortunately, sometimes even fun activities, like sports, can become more about success than fun. Instead, it is important to ensure that your child engages in play purely for the sake of fun. This may include scheduling time each day for your child to play with toys, play a game, play a sport (without it being competitive), do yoga, paint, have a tea party, put on a play or just be silly.

5) Model stress tolerance, self-care and positive thinking
Your child will do what you do. If you avoid stressful situations, so will your child. If you learn to cope and tolerate stress, so will your child. If you take care of yourself and schedule time for your own needs, your child will learn that self-care is an important part of life. If you look for the positive in situations, so will your child. Children learn from watching their parents. So, when you think about your child’s social-emotional well-being, think about your own as well.

6) Reward bravery
If your child faces and does not avoid a stressful situation, reward his bravery with praise, a hug or even something tangible like a sticker or a small treat. This is not bribery if you establish this as a reward prior to your child being in the situation. If you reward behaviours, your child will engage in them more often.

7) Encourage good sleep hygiene
Set a bedtime for your child and stick to that bedtime, even on weekends.  Also, schedule a 30-45-minute bedtime routine every night. This helps your child to transition from the activities of the day to the relaxed state necessary to fall asleep.

8) Encourage your child to discuss feelings of stress
If your child says that he or she feels stressed, don’t say “You’re okay” or “You’re fine.” Communicating that nothing is wrong is not helpful and it may make your child believe that you are not listening or understanding him or her. Instead, validate your child’s experience by saying things like “Yes, you seem stressed. What is making you feel that way?” This can lead to a discussion about how he or she is feeling.

9) Help your child to problem solve
Once you have validated your child’s feelings and demonstrated that you are listening and understanding your child’s experience, help him or her to problem solve. This does not mean solving the problem for your child. It means helping your child to identify possible solutions. If your child can generate solutions, that is great. If not, suggest some potential solutions and ask your child to pick the solution that he or she thinks would work best.

10) Stay calm
Children look to their parents to determine how to react in situations. We have all seen a young child trip and fall and then look to a parent to see how to react. If the parent seems concerned, the child cries. This is because the child is looking to the parent for a signal of how to react to the situation. Children of all ages pick up on their parent’s emotions and resonate with them. If you appear stressed, your child will pick up on your mood and experience an increase in his or her own stress. So, when you want to reduce your child’s stress, you must manage your own stress. This may mean deliberately slowing down your own speech, taking a few deep breaths to relax and working to ensure that your facial expression conveys that you are calm.

11) Practise relaxation exercises with your child
Sometimes basic relaxation exercises can help your child to reduce stress. You can ask your child to take a few slow, deep breaths. Teaching this strategy to your child is often more effective if you take a few slow breaths with your child so he or she can match your pace. Or it might mean asking your child to image him or her doing something relaxing such as lying on the beach. Ask your child to close his or her eyes and imagine the sounds, smells and sensations associated with the image. For example, you could say “Close your eyes and picture yourself on a beach. Listen to the sound of the surf as the waves come in and go out. In and out. Listen to the sound of the seagulls flying off in the distance. Now focus on how of the warm sand feels beneath your fingers and the sun warming your skin.” Your child can use these techniques on his or her own when feeling stressed.

12) Always persevere and never give up!

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