Illustrated girl running down a school hallway
Illustrated girl running down a school hallway
Advice, Learning 3 minute read

A Smart Adult's Guide: Helping kids manage stress and worry

By American Girl May. 1, 2023

Kavi Sharma, 2023 Girl of the Year™, has a lot on her plate. She’s taking lessons in dance and piano, trying out for a school show, and aiming for straight A’s. But her hobbies, goals, and obligations begin to overwhelm her. Many kids today find themselves in a similar boat, whether it’s juggling too many activities or worrying about school, friendships, or big news events. Here are some techniques and tips to help kids learn healthy ways to deal with these feelings.

Girl juggling plates with a worried look on her face

As you help the kids in your life navigate stressful moments or worries about the future, you can suggest some of the following methods, and see what works best:

Teach deep-breathing techniques
When Kavi’s classmates get upset at a rehearsal, she leads them in a basic breathing exercise she learned in her yoga class. One of the simplest ways to calm down in the midst of spiraling anxiety is to just take a deep breath. When we’re nervous, our breathing gets fast and shallow, and when we’re calm and relaxed, our breathing is slow and steady. By switching to deep, slow breaths, we can literally change our body chemistry and stop anxious feelings from growing. Show your anxious kiddo how to pause, count to four while she takes a slow breath in through her nose, hold for four seconds, and then release while counting to four again. Repeat this simple breathing method if the stress is particularly high.

Kavi Sharma family practicing yoga together

Help her recognize and express emotions
Sometimes emotions are seen as “good” and “bad,” but the truth is that emotions are neither—they’re just feelings we have. It’s how we express them that can be positive or negative. Help your girl learn to recognize her emotions and express them in healthy ways. Sometimes it can help just to take five minutes to sit and feel whatever she’s feeling! Healthy ways to express feelings include writing about feelings in prose, poetry, song lyrics, or journaling, like Kavi does. Other options include:

  • Illustrating emotions through arts and crafts
  • Strenuous activity like running or dancing
  • pending time in nature
  • Talking it through with a trusted friend or family member.

Most people find that once emotions are expressed, they feel easier to deal with, even if nothing else has changed.

Girl looking at birds through a pair of binoculars

Lighten her schedule
Sometimes, changes are in order. In Kavi’s story, she decides to pause her dance and piano lessons until her school show is over. Many kids today have a lot on their plates, from school to activities and hobbies to responsibilities at home. A heavy schedule can be overwhelming, so help your child create a calendar or schedule to see what her day-to-day looks like. Review her schedule with her and see if it’s overloaded. If it is, ask her which activities or obligations she would like to discontinue or postpone until she has more free time. Make sure to add some blocks of time for relaxing or having fun!

Teach time management skills early
To improve her schedule, time some common activities to better understand how long each one takes. Maybe your girl thinks it only takes 30 minutes for her to get ready for school, but you know it’s closer to an hour. Time management skills not only help us be more effective in using our time, but also help us see where we’re losing time. If your kiddo feels overwhelmed by how much she has to do in one day, it may help for her to see that they’re losing an hour every day trying to find things in a messy room or closet. That knowledge will motivate her to clean it up.

Graphic that has quote from A Smart Girl's Guide: Getting it Together

Get organized
Everyone gets stressed when they can’t find the things they need or a task takes longer than it should! Help reduce that stress through organization. Maybe your girl has to spend 30 minutes every morning looking for what she wants to wear because her room is messy and she doesn’t realize how long it takes her to find things. Any new organization efforts need to work for the child who will be using them, but you can help by suggesting ideas and helping her execute them. Some ways to get organized include:

  • creating a system for cleaning out her backpack each day after school
  • arranging her room in a way that works best for her
  • cleaning out and organizing her school locker

Girl with unorganized locker looking at two girls with tidy lockers

Control what she can
In life, difficult things happen that we have no control over, which can cause stress and worry. One of the best ways to manage is to identify what your girl can control. This might mean finding ways to be safer, improving communication, getting more organized, or making small efforts toward big issues. For instance, if a source of worry and anxiety for your girl is climate change, help her find things the family can do around your home that are good for the environment. She’ll gain a sense of control and of doing something positive, rather than worry about trying to solve a global issue alone.

Girl battling a cartoon tornado filled with her items

A trusted adult
Make sure the kids in your life know that they can come to you if they feel overwhelmed and need help coping with something that’s making them anxious. You may not have all the answers, but it’s important for your girl to learn that asking for help is okay and sometimes two heads are better than one. Even just being sympathetic and understanding while she expresses how she feels can relieve anxiety and lift her mood. As a trusted adult in a child’s life, you can offer healthy ways to approach anxiety and stress, sometimes just by listening.

Graphic of two girls speaking to one another

Help her stay positive
When the demands of life pile up, it can be easy to give in to negative thoughts and expectations. One of the best ways to counteract this tendency is to challenge those negative thoughts with positive possibilities. For instance, if your girl thinks, “I’ll never make any friends at my new school who are as great as my current friends,” encourage her to replace that thought with: “I can’t replace my current friends, but I’m sure I’ll meet new people who are great in their own way,” or “I can stay in touch with my current friends and still make new friends.” By challenging negative thoughts rather than dwelling on them and letting them grow, you can help her retrain her brain to be more positive.

Another way to focus on the many positives in her life is to cultivate a habit of gratitude. Help her make a list of things she’s grateful for in her life. The list can include specific things like a pet or a game as well as general things like her health or her skill at music or sports. She can decorate the list and post it on her wall or mirror, to look at when worries start taking over, to remind herself that despite all the challenges, her life is full of good things.

Family sitting together on a couch with their dog

American Girl’s A Smart Girl's Guide: Worry, and A Smart Girl's Guide: Getting It Together all have great ways for girls to manage stress and anxiety, plus advice for adults hoping to help.

©2024 American Girl. American Girl and associated trademarks are owned by American Girl, LLC.

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