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How to help children deal with stress

We parents are not the only ones facing stressful situations.  Our children also experience stress: stress with transitions in their households, stress at school with friendships or academic challenges, stress related to medical situations.  An urbanMama recently emailed, seeking your suggestions for stress-reducing activities for her daughter:

My six-year-old daughter is going through some tough medical issues right now. I think we’re hooked up with the right medical providers, but she is understandably stressed. So I was trying to think about what to do for a stressed-out kiddo. Good food—check. Good sleep—check. Cleared my schedule to make life less rushed for her—check. Organized her room and am making an effort to keep the house tidy—check. What else? I’d love to hear suggestions about ways to help kids relax. My only thought so far was massage, but I think I’d have to find just the right provider since otherwise it would just be one more stressful appointment with a stranger. So if anyone knows of a masseuse who works with kids, or has other ideas about techniques for reducing and coping with stress, that would be great.


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I have a child who enjoys physical activity, so I tend to think of outside play time-- swinging, riding a bike, walking to feed the ducks-- anything low-key and outdoors, as part of finding balance in daily life. I also wonder about creative play or drawing as outlets for expressing your child's worries, mixed feelings about health, or whatever comes up.

My daughter had a pretty bad cough recently....our naturopath suggested the "sock routine" (take a hot bath/shower, put on a pair of cold wet cotton socks, then a pair of dry, thick wool or cotton socks, then go to bed or rest) to help draw out her congestion and get better sleep. After a hot bath, I would massage her feet with a drop of lavender oil, put on the socks and warm pajamas, and put her in bed. She loved this routine--it was relaxing and pampering. Something simple that you could do at home--maybe just soaking her feet in warm water, Epsom salts, and lavender, then giving her a foot rub--would help her relax without the stress of going to another stranger.

Does she like to swim? There are a few community centers in Portland with indoor pools that are heated and open year round. Maybe find one with a free swim time that fits your schedule?

Find a book on infant massage, and use that to create a massage routine for your daughter. One less stranger, one less appointment, and one *more* opportunity for you two to bond and her to seek relief from the most natural source, you. You can use any oil or lotion she likes, but jojoba will actually wash out of sheets. Add a couple of drops of essential oil to a tablespoon of jojoba for a nice scent.

Also, a yoga dvd aimed at kids could be a great addition to the day.

Good luck!

6 is old enough to learn some simple visualization/meditation techniques. There are some lovely kid oriented ones such as Relax Kids. These might help her relax at home and center herself at the doctors.

Also, I have a 5 year old niece that over the past year has been diagnosed with a condition that requires a day in the hospital each month. Her mama has ritualized the day by going to the library the day before for new books, having a special breakfast the day of, buying a new pencil for her special 'journal', etc. She tries to keep it close to the same each month. Of course, all of this is hard to do and takes effort, but it does provide comfort to the child.

Talk to your child's medical team. If she's getting treated an any of the children's hospitals (Emanuel or Doernbecher), they have wonderful teams of mental health & other professionals who deal with kids facing medical treatment. They would have experienced massage therapists, art therapists, etc.

As a kid (from age 4-11) I was really sick and often in the hospital, at appointments, etc. I was definitely scared and stressed out. My parents had different things that they did to help me feel better; my dad told me stories that he made up and we did "yoga" - which was really just basic relaxation/breathing exercises - they really worked though and we would do them together at night before bed and it always helped to relax me to sleep. My mom would rub my back with lotion, or my dad would give me foot rubs. These things all helped me to feel a little better in the moment and often help me to sleep when I was not feeling well.

I agree with the back rubs, foot rubs, basic meditation/breathing exercises (you can find books on reducing children's anxiety that have chapters on this), done at home; all have been helpful to my easily-stressed daughter. Funny movies or books that provoke lots of laughter?

Children's Healing Art Project might be a good resourse. I hear nothing but praise for this group.


The first thought that came to mind was...Yoga! Since I'm not in tune as to which studios are running children's classes, but I'm sure some uM readers could point you in the right direction.

If you're interested in doing yoga with her in the comfort of your own home, this is a product that I sell from Barefoot Books. http://store.barefootbooks.com/yoga-pretzels.html?bf_affiliate_code=000-03i7 We own a set and my boys enjoy doing a bit of yoga on our back patio several afternoons a week. I love it because sometimes it's hard to fit a class into our schedule--with these cards we can each pick a few and play for a while.

Midland Library has a free yoga class on Tuesdays at 1115am for ages 3-6 .
My daughter is prone to anxiousness. She loves the book, "My Daddy is a Pretzel" with many different yoga poses. She does them while I read. She really enjoys it, and I think she may be sleeping better.

My six year old gets a lot if relief from Network Chiropractic. She sometimes falls asleep after 5 minutes on the table, seriously. Network involves subtle touches along the spine that allow the nervous system to unwind and gain a greater capacity for dealing with stress. She has a few friends who love to get treated too. Dr Brian Duby is extremely gentle and excellent with kids. He is on the Hollywood area, 1 (503) 935-9488. I see him weekly for my own personal growth and he treats mh daughter for free whenever I bring her along. He's very affordable as well.

Leah -- Thanks for the link! Are you the same Leah that is featured on the yoga cards?

I wish!

No, I started buying Barefoot when my first was born (nearly 6 years ago, yikes!) and joined them as an Ambassador a few years ago. I love the company (mama-owned and socially responsible) and the books and gifts are wonderful.

I think all suggestions offered are great. You are probably already doing this but validating her feelings and that being stressed when dealing with a medical situation is a totally normal reaction. Part of being a Mom and loving her so much is wanting to spare her not just the condition but the stress that goes with it, but I don't know that it is possible to do that. It sounds like you are a wonderful Mom which is just what she needs on her journey. I hope everything works out for your family.

yoga sounds like an excellent way to relax, for mama, papa, and little ones.

Elementum NW is a yoga studio in NW Portland (like 25th & Thurman) that offers family yoga and kids' small group yoga. They do integrative therapy, so maybe some yoga/ breathing, some bodywork/ massage?

As a child and family therapist I would remind you of the impact that short periods of complete attention to your child. So many of us have fond memories of the rituals our parents did with us when we were sick- soup, cuddling in pj's ect.. I would find a few times in the week when you and your child spend 30 min completely following your child's cues and doing something they particularly enjoy, or giving them something they know is just for them- telling a made up story ..
I can also testify to the healing power or network chiropractic for children. Dr Elliot and Anne Mantell at Common Ground Chiropractic are local practitioners.

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