Parenting: Teachings Children to Cope with Stress – 5 Tips

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.

parenting-packingHere 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?

Communication

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.)

Post-move Crazies

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.parenting-child-playing

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.

How do you help your children cope with stress? How do you cope with stress? Have you found some techniques better than others?

Parenting: Should We Set Boundaries for Our Children?

Parenting is an ever-evolving process and defining boundaries is a large part of that process. To say it’s a balancing act is an understatement. Some parents may disagree with parts of this discussion, and if you do, I hope you’ll comment below so we all can see the opposing thoughts.

Parenting: Define the Boundaries

The first step is defining the given boundary for you and your child, then sticking with that boundary until it’s time to adjust or remove it entirely.

This has been tough for me of late because of the age difference between my children. My son is four, my daughter two. My boy is allowed certain permissions because of his age and my daughter doesn’t quite comprehend why this is so.

My son is allowed in the kitchen, my daughter is not. My son can sit at the dinner table in a regular chair while my daughter still uses the high chair. My son can eat potato chips and chewy candies while my daughter cannot.

I’m sure it feels unfair to her, but we explain to her that it’s because she’s still too little. However, she tries to keep up with her big brother even when she’s not allowed. He jumped off our porch into the grass a few days ago and my girl was right behind him, ready to go. The drop is only a few feet, but my daughter is too small. Not by much, so I’m sure she’ll be jumping from there soon enough.

Age appropriate boundaries must be set for each child, and then adjusted according to their personalities. My son is naturally safety conscience while my daughter is not. Her boundaries are a little tighter than they were for my son at the same age.

parenting - kid - jumpingIf we were to define this boundary, we could say that our son is allowed to jump from heights of two feet or less while our daughter is allowed to jump from heights of one foot or less.

We would then show each child exactly how far this is. While they may not understand the exact definition of the height, they soon get a good idea of just how far that height is.

Stick to the Boundary

Once that boundary is set, we must stick with that boundary until it’s time to change. We can’t adjust according to how we feel that day. Some nights we won’t get as much sleep. If you’re tired and don’t feel like chasing your child around, don’t use that as an excuse to let your child jump from heights you wouldn’t normally. If you’re too tired, then don’t allow your child to get into that situation. It will save you and your child heartache, now and in the future.

If the child goes beyond that boundary (which they will), then we punish them according to our typical punishment standards. Check out my post on Effective Child Punishment. If we’re not consistent, then the child will not view boundaries as boundaries at all, but as something less, something they need only abide by when their parent is in the mood.

Does a Child Even Need Boundaries?

I know many parents who don’t believe in setting boundaries at all. They feel a boundary will retard their child’s growth. If the child is allowed natural punishment for going beyond typical boundaries, then they’ll learn on their own.

If we use the example of jumping from a certain height, a parent who believes boundaries aren’t needed may believe their child will stop jumping from too high of a height of they get hurt in the process. If their child jumps from the hood of a car and breaks their arm, then they’re less likely to do so again. If their child puts their hand too close to an eating dog and gets their hand bitten, they probably won’t pet an eating dog again.

This is true to a certain extent, but we’re given brains for a reason. We learn not only from our past, but the past of others as well (most of the time). Besides saving our child from the parenting - kid - fallinghorrible pain of a broken arm, why not use what we’ve learned in our lifetime to protect them?

Imagine if we kept the no boundary attitude until our child was sixteen years old and read to drive a car. Would we put them behind the wheel and say, “Good luck, be safe, try not to run anybody over.” Of course we wouldn’t. We use our knowledge and experience to teach them to the best of our ability. While the child won’t necessarily be the greatest driver in the world, I’d certainly think they’d be better off if we gave them a few pointers.

If you have a child who won’t listen regardless of your teaching, then we’re still better off giving them a warning before they’re hurt. If you explain to your child that they shouldn’t pet an eating dog and they do so anyway, once they’re bitten, all those memories of you telling them that it was a bad idea will come back. Then maybe they’ll learn after one bite instead of five.

Are Boundaries Too Confining?

Absolutely, and this is the balancing act I spoke of earlier. If we don’t allow our children enough leeway to make a few mistakes on their own, they’ll come to depend on their parents to make all the decisions for them.

Using food as an example, we could simply set food in front of our children and only let them eat what they have. What happens when this child becomes an adult and doesn’t possess the ability to make a decision?

This is the balancing act. Give them an age appropriate boundary on what they can or cannot eat. Allow them to make decisions, but only a decision within that boundary.

As a personal example, we had leftover meatloaf and spaghetti this weekend and made turkey taco dip as well. I offered each child one of the three choices for their meal. My son asked for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I told him I appreciated him asking so nicely, but that PB&J wasn’t one of his choices. He whined a moment, but soon chose meatloaf.

He was given a choice, but not so many that it was hard for him to choose. Making smart decisions isn’t innate. It’s a learned ability. Our children need to learn that they will not always have the option to choose exactly what they want, but only to choose what they want most from their limited options. While I won’t get into politics here, it’s similar to the way I feel about presidential elections.

Adjusting the Boundaries

Once your child has reached the age, or maturity level, to go beyond that boundary; it’s time for us to open up that boundary a little more. Maybe my son will be able to jump from three feet soon, or four feet if he’s particularly graceful. The key is to remember to explain to our child why the change was made. Be sure to tell them they can jump from a higher height because they’re older, bigger, or smarter.

What do you think about boundaries for children? Are they needed? Do you believe we’re holding them back when we give them choices?

Parenting: Adapt and Adjust to Change

There are two aspects of parenting I never truly understood until becoming a parent myself.

1. Sleep is a rare commodity. I had no idea just how rare it was.

2. Parenting is an evolving process. Children (and parents) change daily and we need to keep up with that change.

Using a real life example, I bring up the subject of change because my family is in the midst of one right now. Nothing spectacular on the outside, but the inner dynamic is in constant flux.

How You Phrase Your Questions

parenting - toddler girl eatingMy daughter’s vocabulary doubles almost every week, yet she’s trained herself to answer questions a certain way because it’s easier. When trying to determine what a toddler wants we often use multiple-choice format.

What would you like to eat? Apples? Oranges? Peanut butter and jelly?

This works well at first because they haven’t developed the ability to come up with these answers on their own. We often pair the words with a picture or the actual item to establish another connection.

However, if we continue with this format indefinitely then we allow the child to simply wait until we give them the answer before they respond. If I ask my daughter what her favorite food is, she says, “Ah…. Ah…” and waits for suggestions. Once I give a few she says, “Yeah!”

The three words that drive me crazy are, “I don’t know.” While I tell my kids to say those words when they don’t know something, it’s hard to stop them from saying it when they just don’t feel like thinking or answering.

As I said, not a big deal for a toddler, but this is part of the change I mentioned. Once a child has developed enough physically or mentally, we need to change things up to constantly challenge them.

No Naps = More Parenting

Then there’s my son, though I think his change has more to do with me than him. He rarely takes naps anymore. Besides making me sad to see him growing up, it takes away the small chunk of time in the middle of the day when I’m able to get writing and social media work in.

Growing Up

Probably the toughest change so far is that both of my children are growing up. They talk more, interact more, need more parenting - graduationattention, and ask more questions. Notice I say the “toughest change” and not a bad change. I LOVE chatting and playing with my kiddos. Unfortunately it takes away from other parenting responsibilities. Like washing the dishes, for example. I don’t mind washing fewer dishes, but it bothers my wife for some reason…

Just remember that parenting is an evolving process. Every day will bring something new. Not only do we need to stay caught up, we need to stay ahead of the game. Don’t get stuck in a rut because your children won’t wait up!

One last thing. Remember to have fun and enjoy even the crazy times with your children. As any parent knows, times goes by way too fast. Next thing you know, your child will be graduating from high school!

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Banning Sugary Drinks? Really?

When I first read about New York banning sugary drinks, I thought it was a joke. Now that I’ve had some time to think about the subject, I’m a bit torn. I’ll post my thoughts, and then I’d like to hear what you think.

I don’t regularly discuss health topics on my blog, but as a parent constantly concerned with my children’s health, I thought this one was worth the time.

Sugary Drinks

Discussing the health issues related to sugar could take pages, so I’ll just point out a few regularly accepted facts about sugary goodness (or badness).

Sugar-filled drinks are empty calories. Beyond the carbohydrates our body needs to function (which we easily get from every day foods), there isn’t anything sugar adds to our diet.

There is a correlation between sugar intake and a higher likelihood of developing diabetes. Recent studies have shown a correlation between sugar intake and inflammation, which in turn has been related to heart disease, a higher incidence of cancer, and a host of other maladies.

Positive Aspects of the Sugary Drink Ban

It’s proven that if a person has more on their plate, they’ll eat more. The same goes for sugary drinks. If we buy a 20-ounce drink, in all likelihood we’ll drink more than if we only bought a 16-ounce.

I love that New York is taking steps to curb the obesity epidemic in our country.

If the plan actually works, they could potentially save millions in healthcare costs. On top of this, it could improve the way of life for many people. Production levels could improve across the board, bringing in more money to the state. It could lower health insurance costs for those who drink sugary drinks, and those who don’t.

The key words above are, “if the plan actually works.”

Negative Aspects of the Sugary Drink Ban

Isn’t this America? Within reason, I’m pretty sure we based our country on freedom and the capability to choose our own destiny rather than have it forced upon us. What happened when alcohol was declared illegal? And how did that turn out?

If a person chooses to endanger their health by consuming massive amounts of sugar, who are we to stop them? As much as I hate to admit it, unhealthy habits are a part of life. Who are we to tell someone they can’t smoke or they can’t drink alcohol?

The ban is technically on drinks over 16 ounces, but do they honestly think this will stop people from just ordering more than one drink? Or going somewhere else where the ban isn’t in effect?

Going about it the wrong way?

I believe they’re going about this the wrong way. We should start with our children, and focus on other aspects as well. Think about it like raising a child. If you were trying to keep your child from participating in an unhealthy behavior, how would you go about it?

Let’s stick with sugar for this example. We could easily tell our child to stop consuming sugar, punish them if they don’t stop, or remove sugar from our home. Each idea has its advantages, especially the fact that a child learns by example. If a child see their parents turning down sugar on a regular basis, the child is more likely to do the same.

What about teaching our children how unhealthy sugar is? Teaching moderation? Teaching them about the long term affects of sugar consumption? Showing our child pictures of people who have developed diabetes from over-consumption? What happened to teaching a child the difference between good and bad, and allowing them to make their own decisions?

One note I’d like to make about the smoking ban in public places. While I may feel bad (only a little) for those who wish to smoke in these places and can’t, it was affecting those of us who choose not to smoke. The only way drinking a sugary drink affects others is in our pocket books because of soaring health care costs. Whether a person does so in public or at home doesn’t change this.

Banning sugary drinks? Let’s think about this a minute. We’re telling people they CAN’T order sugary drinks in portions more than 16 ounces.

Isn’t it unhealthy to sit on our butts all day? Should the government pass a law stating that we can’t sit for longer than a fifteen-minute interval?

Isn’t it unhealthy to eat red meat every day? Should the government pass a law stating we can only eat 16 ounces of red meat a week?

Isn’t it unhealthy to have high stress levels? Should the government outlaw stressful jobs? Force stressed individuals to take anti-anxiety medicine? Force us to take yoga classes to lower our stress levels?

How long before they decide our psychological health should be monitored? Maybe there should be a law telling us how many hours per week we should watch the news. Maybe parents should only yell at their children fifteen minutes per week.

Alternative Ideas

Am I happy that I pay higher insurance rates because so many people smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol to extremes, and generally don’t take care of their body? Absolutely not. But I don’t think the government should outlaw those things either.

Maybe they could raise the taxes on those items considered unhealthy, and actually funnel that extra money to go toward rewarding healthy individuals, or toward people who have no control over their health. Maybe that money could be used to lower the cost of healthy foods so we’re not tempted to buy the latest $.99 meal instead of a $6.99 salad from the grocery store.

Why not provide kickbacks to those of us who have gym memberships, or home health equipment? Or at least adjust insurance accordingly.

Of course, any of these ideas would be a huge undertaking, but I’m just throwing ideas out there. My point is, there are hundreds of ways to improve the health of our nation without the government forcing themselves upon us, whether that is local, or state government.

Final Thoughts

I don’t want this to appear as a rant against the government, because that’s not the point. I love our government and I believe we need one (this could be a long discussion all by itself), but how is it possible the representatives we voted into office can’t come up with better ideas?

Any parenting class will tell you that forcing a child (or an adult in this case) to do something has a much lower success rate than if we teach them how to make a decision based on their own thoughts and beliefs.

Don’t punish everybody because individuals practice unhealthy behaviors. Reward those who don’t! Actually TEACH our children why these things are bad. Allow people to make their own decision as long as it affects their health (and pockets) and not others.

This whole blog post is only a summary of my thoughts on these things. I could go on and on about almost any of the individual aspects, and could list hundreds of articles arguing both sides of the story.

I’d like to hear what your thoughts are on the banning of sugary drinks in New York. Please stay on task and limit the discussion to this aspect, as I don’t want this to become a political discussion.

Parenting: Telling Your Child “Don’t Cry”

As far as parenting advice goes, telling your child not to cry seems low on the ladder of importance. It’s not something I’ve done a lot, but I caught myself doing so a few days ago and I really had to think about potential long-term repercussions.

The age or sex of your child doesn’t matter. This goes for adults as well. I’ll use an example from my son to explain.

Short Drive With My Child

We planned a short drive to the store for a couple items. My son asked for his red flip-flops before we left the house. However, his blue flip-flops were near the door, and since we weren’t planning for our children to get out on our short road trip, his blue ones were just fine. He didn’t agree.

The kids were both strapped in, flip-flops in place. As I slid the vehicle into gear, I heard a small sob from my boy. I glanced back and tears ran down his face. I put the vehicle back into park and asked him what the problem was. His response through a bigger sob, “But Daddy, I wanted my red flip-flops!”

I admit, I laughed a little, but that wasn’t a big deal. I said, “You shouldn’t cry about your flip-flops. You’re fine.”

He nodded and stifled his cries as best he could. As I said, a seemingly small issue. He was as cute as always, even with the tears and sniffling. The short drive to the store and back, I kept feeling as if something I said was off, or wrong.

Was I Wrong to Tell My Child Not to Cry?

Later that evening, it came to me. By me telling him not to cry, I was saying he shouldn’t listen to his emotions, that they were incorrect. I’m sure it was confusing. I guessed at his thoughts.

“If I feel like I should cry, and I want to cry, why isn’t it okay to do so? Was I wrong? Were my feelings wrong? What’s wrong with me?”

I’m sure that isn’t quite right, but I bet it went along those lines. In the long term, this could teach my child not to listen to his emotions, or maybe he’ll question them.

When the Child Grows Up

Let’s picture my child as an adult. His boss yells at him and my boy grows angry. He may question whether his emotions are correct to feel. This may delay an appropriate response, or change his response to something he’ll regret later.

Maybe he falls in love for the first time, but he was taught to question his emotions at every turn. He may give the girl mixed responses because he’s not sure what he thinks or feels, which in turn makes the girl question her emotions. Not a good beginning to a healthy relationship.

Those are just a couple easy examples. Imagine how my son always questioning his emotions could affect him and those around him throughout life.

As I always say, it’s a delicate balance. We see from the example above it may not be in a parent’s best interest to simply tell their child it’s not okay to cry.

How Can We Approach the Situation Differently?

The simplest approach is more effective communication. Depending on the child’s age, the timing can be important for this communication. Though I was ready for a quick drive, I should have stopped and spent a few minutes discussing the situation with him.

I might have asked why he was crying. Why were the red flip-flops such a big deal? Is there something wrong with the blue ones? I could have explained why it wasn’t a big deal, why the blue ones worked just fine since we were on a short trip.

What we’ll often find is the blue flip-flops weren’t the problem at all, but a smaller part of the whole. My son told me later he had a bit of a bellyache. On top of this, my wife explained that he hadn’t had a nap. I don’t know about you, but my emotions go whacky with too little sleep (I almost said “when I miss my nap,” but I forget what those are).

Next time your child, your spouse, your brother, or whomever you’re speaking to, begins to cry, think about what you can ask or say to understand where they’re coming from. Take a few minutes and talk!

Remember to communicate, even if your child is a toddler. They may not understand everything you say, but your demeanor and the way you respond lets them know their emotions are valid, that you care how they feel.

Can you think of other ways to ensure your child knows their emotions are real? What would you do in this situation? Is it possible you were brought up to question your own emotions?

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