Mom and son play baseball

Stress Relief for the Kids—and You

Stress is very real in kids. The good news: You can team up as a family to calm your whole household with these easy ideas.

Kids are busier than ever. Homework, after-school activities, and chores are just part of the rising anxiety; your own stress can rub off on them too, finds the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey. 

And all that stress can raise kids’ risk for insomnia, skin disorders, headaches, upset stomach, and depression, warns the American Institute of Stress in Yonkers, New York. One study that appeared in Appetite in December 2012 even linked childhood stress to overeating fatty foods. But there are proven (fun) ways to tame tension and give your family the gift of better health together. 

Turn on the tunes

Simply playing soothing music can invoke calm for grown-ups and kids alike. (A number of studies have shown how music has the power to ease even anxiety before surgery.) Try it at mealtime or when everyone’s rushing to head out the door in the morning.

Say yes to yoga

Yoga’s hot for the under-18 set. Books, DVDs, and yoga studios offer programs ranging from mommy-and-me sessions to instruction for kids and teens. Research shows that real science backs up the benefits of this trend. Studies suggest that yoga can help kids focus better (even boosting grades in one California State University project) and lower stress. 

Breathe away stress

Tension creeps into kids’ lives from many directions—a report due in the morning, a big final exam, football tryouts, or an audition for a role in the school musical. But you can teach kids a simple calming technique that’ll ease your tension too. Children’s hospitals recommend breathing exercises to ease stress. A simple routine: Sit comfortably or lie down. Lay the palm of one hand on your tummy, the other on your chest at your breastbone. Notice how an inhalation makes your belly and then your chest rise. Pay attention to this as you breathe in and out together. Now notice the air moving in and out of your nostrils. Imagine that the air you breathe in is surrounding the tension you feel. As you exhale, picture yourself blowing the stress out. 

Get out!

Within minutes of seeing natural greenery, kids’ stress levels fall, according to the National Wildlife Federation. Playing and exploring in the great outdoors helps children’s emotional development and even their relationships. As the NWF puts it, “Nature makes you nicer.” Writing a “green prescription” for yourself and your kids can also help you reduce tension—in one Japanese study, people who participated in leisurely woodland strolls known as Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” decreased their levels of the stress hormone cortisol. 

Take a movie break

In one 2010 German study, kids who watched a joyful film for just 12 minutes got a big reduction in levels of cortisol. Simply anticipating the next laugh—wondering what a favorite cartoon character will do next—can also make stress hormone levels drop, according to research out of Loma Linda University in California. Choose a movie you’ll both love (perhaps The Sound of Music or Monsters University), and take a time-out from tension.

Walk away from grumpiness

Aerobic exercise doesn’t just put a lid on stress hormones; it raises levels of feel-good brain chemicals called endorphins, as well. In one 2013 study from Finland (published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism), exercise also acted as a buffer against kids’ future stress. Compared with sedentary children, active kids had smaller cortisol surges when faced with a stressful experience. Get your gang moving with an after-dinner stroll, dancing in the living room, or swimming at the Y on Saturdays.