While childhood has always been equated with fun and games, let us face it even young children can feel worried. Too many activities, pressure of studies, peer pressure and limited coping skills are a recipe for stress and being overwhelmed.
That said the key to helping kids manage stress is not to make everything comfortable for them but to equip them instead with problem solving skills. The flipside of not equipping children with coping skills of course is that as they grow up, they tend to seek solace in things that make them feel better but which aren’t necessarily good for them- read food, alcohol and even drugs.
Here are handy tips that you can use to help your child manage stress effectively:
- Steer clear of over scheduling- It may be tempting to see your child acing his studies as also being a fabulous tennis player, a great musician as also a budding chef. The fact is over loading the child with activities adds to his stress. The additional problem occurs from the child not having any down time. If anything it is a sure shot formula to kill creativity. Ensure therefore that the child has enough time to play as also sleep well. Healthy meals eaten on time are of course extremely important. Encourage the child to listen to his own body- a lesson if learnt in childhood will stand him in good stead through out life.
- Be supportive of the child- Ensure you listen to the child and are supportive of him. While you need not rush in and solve every small problem of his, it is important that the child knows that you are available to talk to him and offer advice. Physical contact also goes a long way in reassuring the child. Acknowledging the child’s feeling also helps the child come to terms with it. The idea should be to encourage the child to face their fears and not run away from them. Encourage the child to voice his feelings. If the child says that he is worried or stressed, the best response isn’t to say “ You are fine” but to hear him out in a manner that he feels understood. Once you have validated his emotions, you could help the child identify possible solutions.
- Be a role model- Well you cannot hope to teach the child the principles of stress management while you yourself lead a life full of stress. Stress really is contagious so there are enough and more chances of your passing your stress onto the child. Instead, if you find ways to deal with your stress positively, the coping mechanisms will automatically become a part of the child’s stress management repertoire. Consciously focusing on the positives of a situation can subliminally pass this habit to the child as well. Another aspect that can help the child as much as it can help you, is to share your day’s happenings with the child. So if you have had a stressful day at work, tell the child about it as also how you handled the situation positively. This will help him share his own stresses with you. Also he is likely to take a leaf out of your life to handle his own stressful situations, positively!
- Equip the child with techniques to let his stress out- Whether it is exercise or writing down one’s thoughts or pursuing a hobby, ensure that you offer the child enough ways to let his stress out instead of keeping it all bottled up. Laughter can be a great medicine- so ensure that humour has a lot of space in your own life. Teaching the child calming strategies is also extremely important. Some of them include:
- Deep breathing
- Visualization- Encourage the child to think of his or her favourite place. It could be the beach or the woods. Let me soak in the sights and sounds of the place as they see the place in their mind’s eye and come out fully refreshed.
Teaching the child the principles of mindfulness to be able to live in the moment, also come in extremely handy.
Remember that mornings are extremely important as they set mood for the day. Getting up with some time at hand so that lack of time does not become a stress point is important. Also, having a healthy routine for the morning is extremely important to get the child equipped for the day.
- Encourage rational thinking- It is important for the child to have the skill to think through decisions in life. It is important that you tell them of the consequences of their decisions but as far as possible leave the decision making to them. The dual learning you need to offer them is that they are responsible for their own decisions and need to face consequences and also that mistakes do occur in life and all one needs to do is learn from them.
- Help them deal with failure- In fact teaching the child to have a positive attitude towards failure is the most important coping skill you can offer to the child as it is both fear of failure and actual failure that leads to maximum stress. Remind the child that they may not be able to do everything right all the time. So while making a good decision is an important skill to have, it is even more important to know how to recover from a decision gone wrong. Instead of encouraging the child to make amends and move on, if we keep pointing out his mistakes, we will impact his self esteem as also burden him with a lot of stress that comes from the fear of making mistakes.
- Make learning fun- When it comes to older children, study related stress is a tangible reality. Depending on the child’s age of course try and use tools that make learning fun. Also, it is extremely important that you understand your child’s areas of strengths and weaknesses and keep expectations realistic. Also watch out for any common signs of stress including sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, anger and frustration and more. Above everything, keep the communication channel open with the child at all times.
Al this said, it is worth remembering that not all stress is bad. In fact, some amount of stress is required for us to function optimally. As a parent, the goal also isn’t to take away all stress from the child’s life. Instead it is to raise children who can manage and control their stress levels.