It can help us meet deadlines. It can force us to get organized. It can give us the boost we need to do our best.

But too much stress can be harmful—for adults and for children. Today’s children face more pressures than any other generation—and they need help dealing with them.

Here’s how you can create a family atmosphere that will help you examine and reduce the stresses that may be facing your child.

Are You Putting Too Much Pressure On Your Child?
A recent study asked children to name their biggest worry. They said it was the intense pressure to do well in school and sports. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • When you watch your child in an athletic event, do you criticize his performance afterwards? Or do you try to focus on the fun of playing the game?
  • What happens when your child brings home a test? Do you first talk about the questions she got wrong? Or do you look for what she got right?
  • Do most of your conversations with your child focus on the things she hasn’t done? (“Clean your room!” “You forgot to feed the dog.”) Or do you try to say something positive as often as possible?

Teach Children the Difference Between “Doing Your Best” and “Being the Best”
Stress becomes unhealthy when the demands parents place on their children become unrealistic. That’s why it’s important to emphasize doing their best rather than being the best.

It’s also important to remind your child that no one can be best in everything. Let him know that you love him because of who he is—not what he does.

Help Competitive Children Relieve Stress
Competitive children are most vulnerable to stress. If you have a competitive child, teach her some healthy ways to reduce the stress in her life. Here are some suggestions:

  • Turn problems into challenges. If your child is feeling stress because of a major project that is due in school, help her break it down into smaller chunks—and celebrate her success in completing each section.
  • Find things your child can learn from a disappointment. Perhaps he made some new friends. Perhaps she learned that she needs to begin her science project sooner than the night before it’s due!
  • Teach your child to play by the rules. Telling children that “winning is everything” creates unhealthy stress—and unhealthy values. What really matters is how you play the game.
  • Exercise regularly. One of the best ways to relieve stress and tension is through physical activity.
  • Make sure your child does some things just for fun. If she’s getting too stressed out before a big test, rent a funny video and relax for an hour or so. The laugh may do her more good than another hour of studying.
  • Be a good role model yourself. The way you handle stress shows your child how to cope. If you turn to alcohol or cigarettes, your child may be more likely to try those things, too.
  • Talk it out. Sometimes, your understanding ear may be all it takes to get your child through a rough time.
  • Make sure your child gets enough sleep. It’s even more difficult to handle stress when you’re exhausted.

Setting Priorities: Do the Right Things Right
Trying to do too much can be a major cause of stress. Learning to set priorities is one of the best ways that children can deal with the stress in their lives.

Teach your children an important rule of time management: It’s not enough to do things right. It’s more important to do the right things right.

If your child has trouble using time wisely, have her make a list of everything she wants to do. Then set priorities. What’s most important? Only when she’s done the right things right can she move on to those lower-priority items.

What If Your Child Has Special Talents?
There are some children whose gifts—as a performer, an athlete or a student—appear very early. Parents can help these students develop their talent—while still keeping school and family life in balance. Here are some suggestions:

  • Encourage a disciplined, organized life-style. Practice should be part of the regular family routine—but so should chores or time for reading.
  • Don’t let your child sacrifice his education for his talent.
  • Let your child set the pace. Provide opportunities—but don’t take over.

There’s No Place Like Home!
When children are under too much pressure, experts say the place to start to get it under control is right at home. Parents can make sure they are not the source of unhealthy pressure. Parents can teach children how to set priorities and how to keep their strengths and weaknesses in perspective. Perhaps most important, parents can show children, by their own example, how to handle the daily pressures we all face.

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