It’s not easy being a child today. While this may always have been the case, today’s children live in a hyperactive world. Between meeting the demands of Common Core and the umpteen activities they do, children can face a great amount of stress. A normally docile acts out. An energetic child is sluggish and out of sorts. These are all ways children show stress. Fortunately, parents can help their children combat stress in many different ways.
The article “Helping Kids Cope With Stress,” from the “Kids Health” website offers some great tips to parents.
The first tip is to “notice out loud” when a child seems stressed. for example, when Johnny seems stressed, put it to words. “Johnny, you seem mad about what happened in gym yesterday” or “Susie, you seem like something is bothering you.” When parents do this, their concern goes far in helping children feel armored to fight stress. Children often feel alone and consumed by their stress and worries. Show them they are not alone and you are there with them.
Along with this, parents should actively listen to their children when they tell us what is wrong, without adding judgment or without rushing them along. Ask open ended questions to get them talking about their worries. “Jilly, what is stressing you out?” “Tell me what happened in class.” “What did you do after your coach said that to you?” It then helps to dose them with a great deal of empathy. This sounds like a no brainer, but in the heat of the moment parents are often at their wits end or flooded with their own feelings-anger, stress, distraction. Feeling understood and listened to, helps your child feel supported by you.
Parents can also help our children put a label on their feelings and help them think of things to do. Children, especially small children, may lack the words to express their feelings. This is probably why they start with I have a headache or stomachache, instead of I feel overwhelmed by homework; I am tired; I am upset by all the attention Baby Sammy is getting instead of me, etc.. Early on, children are able to describe a belly ache or a head ache. By helping children identify and label their feelings, parents help them increase their emotional awareness. “Susie, you feel overwhelmed by all the homework you have this year. You’d like more time to play.” “Joey, you are saying you are sad because you miss spending time with me, now that the baby is here.”
After having increased emotional awareness with your child, help them develop an action plan. Help your child think of what to do when stress arises. Parents may need to start the brainstorming session, but ask them for their ideas. – When Johnny comes up with ways to deal with not forgetting his homework, that’s pretty powerful stuff. Help him follow through. Maybe he isolates the problem. His folder never comes off his desk once homework is completed. He tells you he needs to place it right in the bag, after you check it Of course, right. When children come up with the solution, they gain confidence and feel empowered.
In the article, parents are reminded that sometimes they just need to listen and help them move on. Sometime, it only takes a sense of being heard, to feel better. Listen and help your child find something fun and relaxing to do. Do not give a problem more attention than it deserves. Also, a child may not need to talk about it or want to talk about it. They just need parent to be there for them and ready to listen if they want to talk to us about it. Be loving, patient, and present to them.
Lastly, parents may need to actively step in and minimize stress in their children’s lives. If the morning is pure chaos, what is our role in reducing it? Does everyone have enough time to get ready? What can be done the night before to make for a smooth morning routine? Did everyone have a healthy breakfast, to provide them the right nutrition to start the day? Are your children getting enough exercise at home? How about activities? Today’s children need more downtime and less scheduled time. It will not wreck their college application for them to forgo competitive swimming at seven years-old or five day a week, travel soccer. Childhood is brief. By teaching health stress management skills now, parents are helping their children for a lifetime.