Stress Trigger: Too Little Down Time
A hectic life may affect your family’s weight. Studies show that chronic stress can produce too much cortisol, a hormone that can ramp up appetite -- and lead to overeating. Stress can also trigger comfort eating.
For Relief: Encourage your family to build relaxation into their days. Even 10 minutes counts. Flip through magazines, sit and talk, or take a relaxing walk -- anything to help you pause and switch gears.
Stress Trigger: Too Little Sleep
Too little sleep can make anyone tired and cranky. It also causes slowed metabolism and increased appetite -- risking overeating, unhealthy food choices, and inactivity.
For Relief: Get everyone to bed! Set a soothing routine -- like reading a book -- and a regular bedtime that allows for this many hours of sleep by age:
- Kids 6 and younger: 11 to 13
- Grade-schoolers: 10 or 11
- Teens: 8 to 10
- Adults: 8 or so
Stress Trigger: Money Troubles
When you're stressed about finances, your kids can be, too. Maybe it's because they are missing extras like movies or new shoes -- but for younger kids, it just may be that they sense something's wrong.
For Relief: Be open about day-to-day concerns, but stay upbeat: "An out-of-town vacation won't happen this year, but let's plan something fun around here." Let them know things are going to be OK in the long run.
Stress Trigger: Fighting Parents
When mom and dad fight, kids get tense. That's especially the case with kids age 10 and younger, whose sense of security is still based around home.
For Relief: If your child gets upset from hearing an argument between you and your spouse, acknowledge it. Remind her that everyone argues sometimes -- and what's important is that you'll work it out.
Stress Triggers: Stressed-Out Parents
When your kids see you struggling with stress, they learn to respond to stress the same way. They mimic how you stay up too late, eat on the go, or just get irritable.
For Relief: Show your kids how to cope by dealing with your own stress in a healthy way. Acknowledge when life feels hectic, and make a point to relax and take care of yourself. (Your little ones will be watching, and you'll feel better too.)
Stress Triggers: Friends
When kids reach 3rd or 4th grade, they base much of their self-worth on friends. Hurt feelings or being bullied can lead to stress eating.
For Relief: Pay attention if your kids complain their friends are "mean" or if they start acting irritably. Keep communication lines open so you know what's going on in their social lives. If you notice excessive sadness or social withdrawal, talk with a health professional.
Stress Trigger: School
In our competitive society, even young kids can worry about performing well in class or keeping up in sports and activities.
For Relief: Help your child find activities he excels at or enjoys, and provide encouragement to try hard, keep practicing, and celebrate small successes. For schoolwork, help kids keep organized -- such as making weekly lists and checking them off -- so they see and feel accomplishments.
Stress Trigger: Boredom
Kids crave structure and stimulation, so having nothing to do after school can make them restless. Then they can end up making poor choices -- like eating junk food and spending too much time on video games or TV.
For Relief: An after-school program and regular physical activities for an hour or so each day can provide just enough structure to offer kids healthy downtime in the afternoons.
Stress Trigger: Irregular Eating
Skipping or replacing meals with snacks makes it hard for kids to maintain balanced energy all day. That can take a toll on their ability to focus on health. It can also cause excessive weight gain.
For Relief: Stick to three meals, and two snacks a day -- that works for most families. Plus, studies show that when kids eat with the family several times a week, they tend to be happier and eat healthier, too.
Stress Trigger: Changes in Routine at Home
Kids younger than 6 years old can’t talk about stress yet. They just act out when things feel wrong. Any change in routine -- a new school, a move, a new job for mom or dad -- can turn their world upside down, stressing parents or siblings, too.
For Relief: Stick with a few daily rituals: meals at specific times, a standing story time, or an afternoon walk. Kids who know what to expect feel more at ease, and so will everyone else.
Stress Trigger: Too Much Screen Time
TV or video games may feel like down time, but screen gazing isn't as relaxing as reading a book or talking with someone. Plus TV time often leads to idle snacking.
For relief: Limit your family's screen time to a max of two hours a day. And don't allow eating in front of the TV because the distraction decreases awareness of portion size, feelings of fullness, and family communication.
Stress Trigger: Multitasking
Teens may seem happy and calm while texting their friends, listening to music, and doing homework all at once. But multitasking is more tiring and stressful than you'd think.
For relief: Talk to your teen about concentrating on one activity at a time and how to make choices to do it. It's a great opportunity to help them cut back on screen time, too.
Stress Trigger: Being Inside Too Much
Kids -- and grown-ups, too -- feel better when they can get out in nature. One study showed that hospital patients fared better from just seeing trees from their windows.
For Relief: Plan an after-school walk for daily fresh air. Stuck in the carpool lane at your child's school? Park a few blocks away, walk to meet your child, and talk and stroll back to the car. Mission accomplished!