“Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days. When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out.” Perhaps you’ve heard these words from the 21 Pilots song “Stressed Out”, and perhaps, like me, you have heard your kids singing along. At first, it struck me funny that my kids were talking about being stressed out, but the truth is, that being stressed out is a very real problem for our kids. We are inundated with media covering stories of depression, bullying, and suicide. Or maybe you’ve even experienced some of those topics first-hand. News reports from school shootings or any number of horrible situations leave us reeling and fearful for our children. We can feel ill-equipped to handle the weight of these issues, and it has many people analyzing the effectiveness of strategies that are supposed to combat this in our society today. In the past, experts have tried to combat low self-esteem with messages about our ability to become whatever you want to be. Kids were hurt when others were praised for their achievement, so trophies were then given to everyone. Despite these efforts, our kids are still stressed, depressed or wishing for the good old days.
So, what can we do as parents to help our kids? Maybe, like me, you will find these three things can help lower the stress your family:
Check my own stress level: How can I help my kids with stress if I am experiencing it myself? There are moments that trigger my own anxiety or stress. For example, I am not really known for my medical mind, so any health concern becomes serious for me. I think this started when my oldest child had a febrile seizure as an infant. At that point, I realized how little I knew, and felt so inadequate. I’m the type of person who should never google a symptom because it would only point to the fact that my child is probably dying of cancer. There are other triggers as well, but if I let my mind run away with these thoughts, it shows in my words and actions in front of my ever watchful kids. My voice and my posture become tense. It’s like my mind goes into emergency mode even when the situation doesn’t demand that kind of response. It is evident that I need to make a choice. I can either set myself up as someone who is ruled by the emotions of these triggers, or live in light of God’s strength despite feeling week. Monitoring our own stress levels and taking positive steps to cope with them can be the first step in helping our kids. If I am in an moment of weakness, I find that taking a moment to pray really helps to reset my focus and my trust in God. Reciting Philippians 4:8 helps me to remember to turn my mind back to God.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Speak God’s truth louder than the world’s lies: Have you ever really contemplated the truth telling role that you play in the life of your child? If you haven’t, just take a moment to think about it. Lies are everywhere. The media is full of them. Your child’s peers are probably speaking them often. Let’s be honest, so can we. The words that we speak falsely, thinking them harmless or even sometimes cute or humorous, set us up for failure. Our kids will pick up on the fact that we have not always been truthful, and this can end up being confusing and frustrating. One of the best things we can do for our kids is to set the Bible as the ultimate authority of truth, and then live our lives pointing to and reflecting that. What if my child were to come home from a day of school upset about someone calling them stupid? Often, my first response can be protection, where I am on the phone or emailing the teacher to figure out how to get this resolved. What if, instead, my “go to” was to take that moment to make an investment in my child’s character, filling his mind with the truth of who God has made him to be and how God has gifted him. To borrow another line from a song, “Sons and Daughters”, we can encourage our kids to think and even pray “when the lies speak louder than the truth, remind me that I belong to you.” Speaking these truths will help to build our child’s confidence into the person that He has created them to be. The more confident our children are in their identity as a child of God, the less affected they will be by the false identity created by our culture.
Be intentional about what your child takes in each day: It is hard enough for me to keep track of what my mind is taking in each day, so the idea of keeping track of what my kids take in seems like a daunting task. Still, this is no excuse, and it is worth my time and effort. Am I setting my child up to hang out with other kids that will benefit and build them up or am I just let them wander to who is convenient? Am I let them hang in a virtual world all evening rather than giving them opportunities to be interacting and growing with real life relationships and circumstances? Am I aware of the music and media that is feeding into how they see the world and themselves? Am I setting up key people, family members or mentors, to continually invest in my child’s mind and heart? There will be plenty of influences throughout the day, so we need to be purposeful about turning up the volume for those influences that are filling our child spiritually and relationally. Instead of constantly having the tv on, try turning on some praise music. Preschool is a great time to start having little family dance parties, or hearing your kids sing worship songs at any age while driving in the car will do your hearts good!
If “stressed out” is how you would define family life right now, recognizing it and taking a next step is key. If it is an overwhelming issue, some consistent, godly counseling could be life changing. Otherwise, developing some of these practices can help set us back to living in a healthy family rhythm.
Written by Karis Stiles. Karis is the Director of Family Ministry at Parker Hill. She and her husband Kevin have three kids, Kessyde (20), Dakota (17), and Kohen (12).