As parents and adults we have soooo many stressors, and many of us go to unhealthy lengths striving to provide all the best for our kids. That said, we sometimes think to ourselves *hmpff* this child has it made in the shade – I wish I had it this good. Especially those of us who got spankings A.K.A. whoopins (and…that’s putting it nicely). I think we tend to forget that kids, no matter what culture, generation, or decade they were born in encounter large amounts of stress. There’s school stress, the pressure of pleasing us (the parents), there’s a constant learning of new things (small to us, but HUGE to them), and there’s learning to be comfy in their own skin, while dealing with a plethora of new teachers, classmates, and friends. And not to mention the fact they overhear us and the media talking about enormously, inconceivable woes constantly – and they worry. Humans are wired to worry.
We adults usually figure out how to create an outlet – good or bad, productive or not, we figure something out. Our kids can’t do what we do – they don’t have a budget to get a massage, they can’t have a glass of wine, and they can’t really effectively vent or find the words to express that they are stressed. We are our children’s main advocates, so we need take the time to STOP and OBSERVE – look for stress cues in our babies. Here are a few common ones:
- Nervous habits (nail biting, lip chewing, hair fiddling, picking at scratches and/or blemishes)
- Deep Sighing
- Lack of Communication
- Sleep Disturbances (Nightmares, bedwetting)
- Hives or unusual breakouts
- Frequent, intermittent, and/or vague stomach aches/pains
- Decreased Appetite
- Stubborn Behavior (yes, stress manifests into this sometimes)
Every child is different. Those are just a few, but if you notice them. Take the time to get on your child’s level and talk to them. Here are some of the things you can do and say to your child that will promote a healthy cycle of stress management in his/her life:
- “It’s okay to ask for a hug anytime you need one.”
- “You can do it, but it’s okay to ask for help. We can also do it together or I can guide you through it.”
- “Let’s take a break. (actually, STOP, and take a break with them – DEVICE FREE)”
- “Sometimes I have a lot of thoughts in my head. It helps to talk about them. I’m here to listen. (then help them map out a plan – we want to encourage kids how to cope and not run away – they can learn to manage loads now, with our help)”
- Disclose a hard time that you had (even if it’s a scenario from childhood), and let them know how you felt and how you coped. You’d be surprised at how hearing your story would let them know that they can conquer their problems too!
- Don’t yell (be cognizant of the volume and tone of your voice – that could determine how well you are received)
- Stay calm
- Prayer (talk out their problems – encourage them to be specific)/Meditate/Breathe with them (RE-INSERT DEVICE…use the Breathe App – it’s free!)
- Pick a comfy spot, and listen to relaxing music together
- Help them create a relaxing scenario to help them escape for a bit…something like: “Imagine with me. Picture yourself on a warm sandy beach or LEGO Land (in my son’s case)”
- Get some fresh air and connect with nature, and take a walk – heck, even take a run (my kid loves to race – it’s one of his favorite stress relievers along with a bouncy piggyback ride that promotes giggles)
- Acknowledge and reward your child’s healthy coping mechanisms. Dealing with losses and mistakes are just as valuable, if not more than winning the prize.
Don’t let the busyness of doing (providing) for your child prevent you from doing what your child truly needs – make time be present (even if for only 15 minutes) in the moment and look for stressors and try to dig into those to help them sort things out – it will promote trust. We need our kids to know that we care and to trust us. The last thing we want is to let those stressors compound and manifest into undealt with emotions and/or trauma. Start NOW and implement the comforting items listed above and things of the like often. Life is hard, and our kids need us to equip them with the tools to cope. Also, remember that children learn their behaviors from us, so we, too, must remember to practice stress management daily for the betterment of us all.
If you feel that your child is displaying signs that are beyond your reach, please seek help for them. Here are a few starting points: