As adults, we sometimes forget that our kids face a very different world than the one we grew up in. As we deal with stress at work and stress at home, our sons are often dealing with stresses of their own. For parents of both boys and girls, one major difference is apparent: our girls tend to talk about their stresses a lot more than our boys do. So what are mothers of sons to do? Stress affects our sons just as much as it does our daughters, but if we don’t know about it, how can we help them with it?
First, always let your son know that, while he doesn’t have to talk to you, he should try to talk to someone. Maybe he has an older brother, uncle, grandfather, coach, or pastor he trusts with whom he can discuss his problems and concerns. Often, as much as we might wish differently, Mom is just not the person a boy wants to talk to when he has a problem. A mother’s job, then, becomes letting her son know that it’s okay if he doesn’t talk to her, as long as he has someone he can talk to.
Second, encourage your son to engage in some kind of physical activity. Whether it is endorphins, physical exhaustion, or something else, there is definitely something about exercise that helps to relieve stress. Many boys report that they play video games to relieve stress, but studies have shown that video games actually raise blood pressure and heart rate, neither of which is conducive to lowering stress. Similarly, study after study shows that regular exercise lowers stress. The exercise doesn’t have to be in the form of an organized sport or a workout in a gym. A game of pickup basketball with his friends, a jog, or a game of tennis would work just fine.
Third, if your son’s stress is becoming debilitating, consider something a little less traditional. There are simple acupressure techniques that can help relieve the “fight-or-flight” response that stress brings on, making it difficult to handle the very situations that are stressful to begin with. When your son begins to experience stress, whether because of school, work, or social situations, tell him to find the point two thumb widths below the center of his wrist (moving up toward the middle of his arm) and knead it with small circular movements for a minute or so. This pressure relieves stress, headaches, and even nausea. It can be combined with slow and deep breathing to relax your son fairly quickly.
Of course, true stress relief requires stress management, and for that your son may need more help. If talking with a trusted adult is not enough, consider getting him professional help. Stress is one thing that we can count on following us our whole lives. Helping your son learn to talk about it and manage it now will be one of the greatest gifts you can give him.