Parenting: Teaching Children to Cope With Stress
I’ve had the subject of stress on my mind for a while now. Nothing horrible has happened, but the past few months have tested my anti-stress reserves. I’ll focus only on the most recent set of circumstances.
Here is the short version. Two weeks ago, I came down with strep throat. In the midst of the sickness, an opportunity came up that my family and I couldn’t turn down. We moved further north in Michigan, about an hour from where we were before, all over a single weekend. I was half way through my antibiotics at the time, and I’m glad I had them. The second day I was so dizzy I wondered whether my house would spin right up into the sky and land on our new property.
With my mind focused on my sickness, on the general psychological and physical stress associated with moving, I forgot one important factor. My children. How were they coping with the stress? What questions did they have?
The first step in almost all situations with our children is to communicate with them. Ask them if they have any questions. Ask them how they feel, what they’re thinking. We should also share what we’re feeling and thinking.
We did this before the move for a couple months, but once things happened; my wife and I were thrown into a crazy world for a few days.
Our children were amazing during the move. They were locked in their room (with a childproof gate) for two days except while eating and potty breaks. Did I mention they were amazing? Seriously. A four-year-old and a two-year-old hanging out together all day for two days and they had no issues.
(A note here. We had many other family members helping with the move so the children were never out of site of at least one of us, usually more. I thought I’d throw that in.)
The first two days after the move, my wife and I worked as if zombies unpacking, moving junk around, and all the stuff associated with a move. Night was a welcome sight. All four of us passed out more than fell asleep.
That third day was a different matter, at least for my kiddos. I woke up still exhausted and began to prepare my daily pot of coffee. That was when it started and it didn’t stop until that evening.
MY KIDS WENT CRAZY!!!
They wouldn’t listen when I asked them to do something. They cried over seemingly small matters. They broke rules they’ve both been following for months. I could go on and on, but I won’t bore you with too many details here either.
Helping Your Child Cope with Stress
1. Communicate. Remind your children what is happening even if they’re very young. They may not understand the details as an older child would, but letting them know what the process may entail will ensure a lowered stress response.
2. Keep them involved. In our case, letting our children help with the moving process gave them a sense of place. Though they were unsure about why they were helping, it allowed them to feel they were a part of the family, that they were contributing in the only way they could.
3. Pay extra attention to positive behaviors. Maybe reward them for previously learned behaviors, those they may not receive rewards for anymore. Remind them that they are awesome, that they’re doing a great job day in and day out.
4. Ask your child about their feelings and give validation. It’s likely a child will be sad in stressful situations if only because they’re not sure how to deal with significant changes. Allowing them to voice their opinion can have tremendous affects.
Remember to validate their feelings. Allow them to feel bad if they must. It’s okay to explain why they should feel happy about the changes, but don’t tell them they’re wrong for feeling the way they do.
5. PLAY!!! This goes for adults as well as children and it’s my personal favorite. Playing takes the child’s mind off whatever is bothering them. It even gives their subconscious time to figure things out while the child’s thoughts focus on something fun.
As I said, this is my favorite stress reducer. Playing a board game, a computer game, or even writing can relax my crazy thoughts. I actually think this is one of the big reasons I’m drawn to writing. I have fun doing it, it relaxes me, makes the rest of the day go smoother, and on top of all this, I can actually make a bit of money in the process.