Teaching Your Kids to Cope with Stress


It’s probably not news to you that the American Psychological Association found “most Americans are suffering from moderate to high stress” (1) Whether it’s dealing with difficult coworkers or changing one too many poopy diapers, we all have things that stress us out on a day-to-day basis. But the question is, how do you handle that stress?

In the movie Miss Congeniality (2), FBI agent Gracie Hart has a pretty rough day at work. Watch how she handles it in this video clip (3).


Instead of turning to friends or family for support, Gracie tries to drown her sorrows in ice cream. (We’ll talk about why that’s not the greatest way to cope later.)

The way that you choose to handle stress affects both you and your kids. Your kids learn how to handle their own stress by watching what you do. Because how you respond to stress impacts your overall health, it’s important to practice healthy coping.

When Stress Takes Over

Stress isn’t always a bad thing. However, when we let stress take over, it can be more harmful than it is helpful. As the National Institute of Mental Health explains, “Health problems can occur if the stress response goes on for too long or becomes chronic” (4). Here are just a few of the health problems that may pop up for you or your kids if stress isn’t handled well.

  • Physical problems. When stress is pent up for too long, it can result in aches and pains, digestive problems, obesity, an overall weakened immune system, and even heart disease (5).
  • Emotional problems. Stress can also affect people’s emotions, causing irritability, feelings of helplessness, and a sense of being overwhelmed (6). Prolonged stress can even contribute to depression and anxiety (7).
  • Cognitive problems. Not only this, but stress can impact your ability to think clearly. When you don’t deal with stress, it can lead to forgetfulness, confusion, difficulty concentrating, and more (8).

What Won’t Help

Because stress can cause all these problems, sometimes our instinct is to push stress aside and pretend it’s not there. Unfortunately, this way of “coping” doesn’t really help. Here are some common coping mechanisms that you should avoid:

  • Overeating. Like Agent Hart, it can be easy to drown your sorrows with a gallon of ice cream, or any other comfort food. While ice cream is yummy, it won’t actually help you work through your stress.
  • Turning to addictions. A lot of times, people fall into addiction as a coping mechanism, whether it’s addiction to drugs, alcohol, pornography, or sex. Even too much social media or Netflix can be a sort of addiction used to get away from your problems.
  • Overworking. When life is too hard to deal with, sometimes people throw themselves into their work even more. Once again, this is just another way to avoid dealing with stress.

A lot of these unhealthy coping mechanisms are simply things we use to distract ourselves. Russell Friedman, CEO of The Grief Recovery Institute, calls these mechanisms STERBs — short term energy relieving behaviors. STERBs are essentially anything “that creates the ‘illusion’ that we’re dealing with” our emotions and stress (9).

But it turns out that when we try to ignore stressful life events, the problem just builds up. These coping mechanisms don’t help long term and can be seriously detrimental.

So what can you do instead? How can you help yourself and your kids avoid all those negative impacts of long-term stress?

What Will Help

Thankfully, there are some things you can do that will help manage your stress. Here are a few suggestions from the CDC.10

  • Take care of yourself. Taking care of your physical health can do a lot to minimize stress. As you eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly, your body will be more prepared to cope with whatever demands you’re facing.
  • Seek support. Instead of burying your feelings, find someone to talk to. Seek out help from friends, family, or even a counselor. Sharing your problems with others will really help lighten the load.
  • Simplify. Be willing to take a break when you need to! Adjust expectations of yourself and be willing to say no to things. Know how much you can handle and how much is just too much.

Practice Coping

If ice cream has been your go-to answer to stress, it may take some practice to change your habits. But as you steer clear of STERBs and find healthier ways to cope, you’ll help both yourself and your kids. Practice taking care of yourself, talking with other people, and taking a break as needed.

And as your kids watch you cope with stress in a healthy way, they’ll learn to manage their own stress better too.

Pictures retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/work-stressed-accounts-2005640/.


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1. Stressed in America. (2011, January). Monitor on Psychology, 42(1), 60. Retrieved from American Psychological Association website: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/01/stressed-america.aspx

2. Petrie, D. (Director). (2000). Miss congeniality [Motion picture]. United States: Warner Bros. Pictures. THESSALONIAN31N. (2016, July 2). Miss Congeniality ice cream scene [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WR0yTY5G5c0

3. 5 things you should know about stress. (n.d.). Retrieved from National Institute of Mental Health website: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml

4. Stress effects on the body. (n.d.). Retrieved from American Psychological Association website: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-body.aspx

5. Bressert, S. (2016). The Impact of Stress. Psych Central. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-impact-of-stress/

6. 5 things you should know about stress. (n.d.). Retrieved from National Institute of Mental Health website: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml

7. Bressert, S. (2016). The Impact of Stress. Psych Central. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-impact-of-stress/

8. Friedman, R. (2009, December 4). Tiger uses STERBs — do you? AKA what Tiger Woods and an 85-year-old widow have in common. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/broken-hearts/200912/tiger-uses-sterbs-do-you-aka-what-tiger-woods-and-85-year-old-widow-have

9. Coping with stress. (2015, October 2). Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pub/coping_with_stress_tips.html

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