How to support teenagers through life's stressful situations

Stress in young people doesn’t always look like stress in adults. But like adults, children and teens can find healthy ways to cope.

How to support teenagers through life's stressful situations

Stress is a normal part of life. Everyone experiences stress, and some stress is ok (from time to time). It can get you ready for action and give you the motivation to get things done. For example, feeling stressed about an upcoming test can motivate your child to study.

However, too much stress can be overwhelming. It can interfere with sleep, thinking and learning, and it can get in the way of your child enjoying life.

When pre-teens and teenagers have too much stress, they might experience:

  • Feeling constantly agitated, tense, or restless
  • Having physical signs, including sore muscles, a racing heart, sweating, headache, stomach aches or shortness of breath
  • Being sensitive to criticism or extremely self-conscious
  • Having trouble concentrating and starting or finishing schoolwork
  • Trouble sleeping

The teenage years can be very tough for young people, they are trying to navigate the world, all whilst figuring themselves out along the way and experiencing significant physiological and neurological changes. Seeing your teenager struggle, can be distressing for any parent, but there are some ways that you can support them by adopting healthy habits and helping them find stress-managing strategies.

Some ways parents can take action to support their kids through stressful situations:

  1. Model healthy coping skills - Talk with your kids about how you have dealt with stressful situations in the past. Good or bad, kids watch and learn how to cope from the adults around them. If they see you coping in healthy ways, they’re more likely to do the same.
  2. Build Resilience Skills – Resilience, how we manage and adapt to challenging events is pinnacle to not only coping with stressful events but also thriving in life. This includes building social connections to build and strengthen resilience.
  3. Encourage a positive view of themselves  - This includes affirming your young person when they do well, maintaining a hopeful view and gently challenging negative views they express about themselves. If a young person communicates a negative self-perception, reminding them they have succeeded in the past and overcome challenges can help them develop a positive self-view, improve their wellbeing and resilience to stress.
  4. Teach your kids mindfulness techniques –Mindfulness is more than meditation, there are many exercises and activities suitable for people of all ages. Mindfulness can help reduce stress, emotional reactivity and negative thinking. It can also help improve your self-awareness, focus and wellbeing. The key is to find a mindful practice that is enjoyable.
  5. Discuss mental health openly within the household – Having regular, open discussions around stress and mental health helps build connections and normalises the impact stress can have on mental health. If this feels challenging, try to start by talking about historical situations that were challenging but had a positive ending before talking about more current experiences. This normalises and teaches mental health literacy while also encouraging them to reach out when they need to as they feel the environment is a safe place to do so.

By using these and other techniques, you can support your teenagers to manage stress. If a teen talks about or shows signs of being overly stressed, a consultation with a child and adolescent mental health professional may also be helpful. You can easily book a therapist for you or your child on Clearheads Find a Therapist page.