If you’re looking for teen stress management tips, this post has lots of practical advice to help, from recognizing the signs and symptoms, to finding ways to connect with your child and figure out what’s bothering them, to equipping them with the tools they need to navigate their emotions into adulthood.
Teen stress can be the result of one or many things, including disputes with friends, peer pressure, being bullied, worrying about grades, moving to a new home and/or school, changes within the family unit (new sibling, divorce, parents remarrying, etc.), traumatic events like sickness or death, and even the state of the world around us. Recognizing the signs of teen stress and providing appropriate coping mechanisms is important for your child’s mental health, and this post will help you make sense of it all and put a plan of action in place.
What Are The Signs and Symptoms of Teen Stress?
- Increased irritability and moodiness
- Complaining of physical symptoms, like headaches and stomachaches
- More frequent sicknesses
- Changes in appetite (eating more or less than usual)
- Change in sleep habits (difficulty falling asleep, sleeping more than usual)
- Social isolation / spending more time in bedroom
- Avoidance behaviors
- Difficulty with focus and concentration
- Engaging in negative talk
9 Teen Stress Management Tips & Ideas
1. RECOGNIZE THE SIGNS & SYMPTOMS
The first step in helping your teen navigate stress is not just to recognize that your child is struggling, but to the understand the way he or she manifests stress. It is so easy to blame teen bahaviors on hormones without really considering if something else may be going on. As you can see from the list of signs and symptoms above, teen stress can present itself in many different ways, from physical symptoms, to social withdrawal, to changes in eating and sleep patters, to poor academic performance and more. And while each of these behaviors are typical of teenagers, a sudden increase or decrease in one or more can be a sign your child is struggling. Understanding the way you child copes with stress will allow you to be proactive in helping your child navigate stress in a healthy way.
2. BE A GOOD ROLE MODEL
Whether we like it or not, we are our children’s biggest role models. They watch our every move, so if you want to teach your teen how to handle stress in a positive way, it’s imperative that you do the same. Don’t be afraid to tell your kids when you are feeling stressed about something (as long as it’s age appropriate) and the positive coping strategies you use to feel supported and in control. For example, if you have a big project coming up at work, you may discuss how you are organizing your schedule to ensure everything gets done on time, as well as the strategies you use to stay calm when you feel overwhelmed.
As your child gets older, it can become harder to get them to open up and confide in you when something is bothering them. This is the age where kids start valuing their privacy, closing their bedroom door, and turning to their friends for advice, which can make it difficult for parents to recognize the signs of teen stress. Try not to take this change personally, remind yourself that it’s a positive sign your child is developing his or her independence, and find other ways to connect with your child so you can lend a listening ear. Enjoy meals together as a family, show an interest in the things that bring your child joy, find ways to spend quality time together, and just LISTEN to what they have to say. When you are approachable and refrain from overreacting and offering your own opinions, you increase the likelihood your teen will feel comfortable coming to you in times of need.
4. CHALLENGE NEGATIVE THINKING
A common sign of teen stress is an increase in negative talk.
‘I can’t do anything right.’
‘Bad things always happen to me.’
‘I have no friends.’
‘I’m not as pretty as the other girls in my class.’
And on and on it goes.
We all have an inner critic, and it tends to skew towards the negative, making unrealistic generalizations about ourselves that squash our self-confidence and limit our ability to reach our full potential. We filter out the positives, engage in black and white thinking, and always anticipate the worst. We are all guilty of this, but as parents, we need to do a better job of breaking the cycle. Here are some tips to help.
- Reframe negative thoughts. Each time you hear your teen say something negative about him or herself, ask them to think of an affirmation that is the exact opposite. Remind them to use factual, positive, and present-tense words (this list of confidence affirmations might help!), and remind them to repeat this affirmation each time their inner critic starts playing mind games with them.
- Write down 3 positive things about yourself each morning. Get your teen into the habit of writing down 3 things they like about themselves each morning to help train their brain to focus on their positive qualities and features. This can seem silly and even a bit tedious, but it can have a profound impact on their internal dialogue. Make sure they write these thoughts out on paper – or store them in the notes app on their smartphone – so they stick.
- Try ‘The Rubber Band Technique’. Have you heard of The Rubber Band Technique? The idea is pretty simple: you wear a rubber band around your wrist, and whenever a negative thought runs through your head, you snap the rubber band and say (or think) the word ‘STOP’. You can follow this up with deep breaths or a sip of water, or you can find ways to replace the negative thought with a positive one – whatever works.
- Develop a mantra to shut down negative thoughts. A mantra is a word or phrase that is repeated frequently to keep your mind focused. Mantras are typically used in meditation, but they are also a fabulous tool for those looking to improve their internal dialogue. Ask your teen to pick a word or phrase with meaning to them and their specific challenges, and each time you find them in a negative mindset, ask them repeat their mantra over and over until their thoughts begin to shift.
5. TEACH PROBLEM-SOLVING SKILLS
As parents, it’s our responsibility to teach our kids appropriate critical thinking and conflict resolution skills to help them develop and maintain relationships, excel in academics and extracurricular activities, and exercise proper self-regulation and anger management skills. When children aren’t equipped with appropriate problem solving skills, they tend to avoid situations and activities that feel challenging to them, which can have a huge impact on many areas of their lives. The absence of critical thinking and conflict resolution skills can lead to negative, and often impulsive behavior, and can contribute to teen stress.
As your child navigates difficult situations, encourage them to:
- Take a deep breath. When our emotions are high, it’s much more challenging to see things rationally, making impulsive reactions more likely. Teach your teen how to calm his or her body through mindful breathing so he or she has a go-to strategy to return to a state of calm when his or her emotions are high.
- Verbalize the problem. Once your teen is calm, ask him or her to verbalize the problem he or she is struggling with. Putting our thoughts into words can help us gain perspective and make it easier for us to search for solutions.
- Brainstorm solutions. You can have your child do this verbally, or you can ask him or her to write them down, but the idea is to come up with as many solutions as possible, no matter how silly or far-fetched they may seem. A great idea is to set a timer and challenge your teen to strategize as many ideas as he or she can in that timeframe.
- Evaluate each option. Work with your teen to evaluate each idea he or she has come up with. Help him or her anticipate the pros and cons of each, and then identify which solution is the best.
- Practice & assess. Encourage your child to put his or her solution to practice to see if it works, and be sure to take the time to help him or her assess whether or not it was successful. What went wrong? What went right? Should he or she try another strategy?
6. ENCOURAGE HEALTHY HABITS
When we think about teen stress management, we tend to focus on talking, listening, and strategizing, and while these are all extremely important, there are lots of other things that impact our mental health. If teen stress is a concern in your household, make sure not to overlook the importance of the following:
- Sleep. Lack of sleep impairs our ability to focus and concentrate, makes it harder for us to handle stress and regulate our emotions, and it can weaken your immune system to boot! If your teen struggles with sleep, this post about insomnia has lots of great tips and tricks to help.
- Movement. Cardiovascular exercise releases feel-good endorphins that help lift our mood, and it can also help us manage feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression and improve the quality of our sleep so we wake up feeling rested and refreshed each morning. If your child isn’t involved in sports, find ways to keep him or her active to get those endorphins flowing! Go for a walk, throw around a basketball, play a game of frisbee…you get the idea!
- Relaxing activities. When your body is in a state of constant stress, it remains in a state of fight-or-flight, which can cause various health problems, including anxiety and depression, headaches and digestive troubles, sleep disturbances, etc. If this sounds like your teen, help him or her find activities that enable them to relax. THIS POST has tons of ideas you can enjoy together.
7. PRACTICE GRATITUDE
People who practice gratitude tend to be happier and have higher self-esteem. They sleep better, have stronger relationships with the people they love, and spend less time dwelling about negative things, making them better able to handle stress. This gives their mood a good boost, keeping them motivated and energized even when life is challenging. If you’re looking for teen stress management strategies, encourage your child to set aside a few minutes each morning to write down 3 things they’re grateful for to ensure their day starts out on a positive note. Remind them that these don’t need to be BIG things. A funny cat video, learning a new TikTok dance, the release of a new Nintendo game, a sleepover with friends, and a snow day are all examples of little things that can add a huge amount of joy to their lives. The trick is to notice and acknowledge them as this trains their brains to focus on the good instead of the bad.
8. PRIORITIZE 1:1 TIME
The teen years are a time when kids start to test their limits, value their privacy, and lean on their friends more. You may notice your child spending more time in their bedroom with the door closed, but don’t mistake that to mean they no longer need to connect with you. While your time together may look different, it’s important that you continue to find ways to spend quality time together. One-on-one time can be as simple as playing card games, going for a walk around your neighborhood, cooking a meal, or watching your favorite TV show together. There are no time limits, and the only real ‘rule’ you should have is that you give your child 100% of yourself in the time you spend together. Turn off all distractions – including your phone – and really live in the moment so your child feels important and has an opportunity to open up to you about anything that may be causing him or her stress.
9. TALK TO A PROFESSIONAL
My last tip for parents who are looking for teen stress management strategies is to encourage your child to talk to a professional. As scary as this may sound to you and to them, it’s essential that you help your child take care of their physical and emotional well-being. A licensed medical practitioner and/or therapist can offer practical advice on teen stress management, giving your child the tools he or she needs to enjoy a happy, balanced life!
If your child is struggling with feelings of stress, overwhelm, and anxiety, I hope this collection of teen stress management tips and strategies proves useful to you!
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