Holistic Solutions to Stress

Naturally Reduce Your Child's Anxiety

A bit of childhood stress is inevitable, and can even be motivating when taken in small doses, experts say. But parents can do much to help kids better manage it.

Set aside relaxation time: “There is such a thing as preventative mental health,” says Lawrence Shapiro, Ph.D., author of The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook for Kids. “You wouldn’t let your kids go a day without brushing their teeth. Don’t let them go a day without relaxing.”

He recommends that children of all ages carve out at least 15 minutes each day for focused relaxation. Put on soothing music, ask them to breathe deeply and close their eyes, and then leave them alone.

Sleep:  Sleep produces the calming, feel-good brain chemical serotonin, while lack of sleep results in too much of the “fight-or-flight” brain chemical, cortisol. A child who doesn’t get enough sleep won’t handle stress as well. According to the National Sleep Foundation, toddlers need 12 to 14 hours and preschoolers 11 to 13 hours. Kids ages 5 to 12 do well with 10 to 11 hours of sleep and teens with about 9 hours.

Nutrients: Brandy Webb, a naturopathic doctor in Tacoma, Washington, and adjunct faculty member at Bastyr University, says certain nutrients can go a long way in counteracting the physical impacts of stress. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish, flax seed, certain nuts and dietary supplements, can counteract the inflammatory response that comes with stress. This also helps fend off problems such as headaches and muscle aches, which can come with stress-induced inflammation.

Stressed-out kids burn through critical nutrients, particularly calcium, so a balanced diet is critical. Magnesium supplements are known to help relieve anxiety and stress. Vitamins C and E boost immune function.

Botanicals: Webb recommends calming herbal tinctures, such as catnip and passionflower, for quieting a child in the throes of a stressful moment. Lavender, in either a tea or a bath, can be effective in reducing anxiety. Better yet, brew some tea and allow your child to sit in the bath with it for 20 minutes, breathing in the lavender-laced steam.

Exercise:  Shapiro and Webb both recommend at least 30 minutes of free, outdoor play per day.

Limit screen time:  Never allow your child to have a TV or computer in their room, advises parenting expert Charles Fay, Ph.D. Also, keep screen time to an absolute minimum for youths under 2 years old. Keep the volume down (loud noises can aggravate stress) and be particularly wary of television if your child is already prone to hyperactivity.

“If kids are predisposed to hyperactivity, too much TV will exacerbate that predisposition,” Shapiro notes. Also, overuse of electronic media—such as video games and Internet social groups—could be a warning sign that the child is stressed. “A lot of the most stressed-out kids I deal with gravitate toward those things as unhealthy coping mechanisms,” comments Webb.

While social networking tools like Facebook, instant messaging and Internet chat rooms don’t necessarily cause stress, experts advise, a child who spends too much time with them may get behind on homework, adding to their stress.

Worse yet, they’ll rob themselves of time spent playing face-to-face with friends outdoors in the fresh air. Watch any kid at play: There is no better stress reliever.

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