BY: KIMBERLY BABIN
We all want our children, our little lights, to be able to shine bright, but the effects of stress can dull their glow. It’s easy to forget that children experience stress too. No, they aren’t paying bills, grinding out a 9-5, concerned about growing their 401k, or reducing their cholesterol. They do however, have their own world that as filled with just as many stressors and often they have less skills developed to cope. Even the most mindful parents have children that experience stress. They have their own challenges and expectations put on them, and these can be extremely stressful even if it is learning how to tie a shoe, to turn in homework on time, develop healthy friendships, or resist eating all of their parade-candy. Children have a natural resilience, and so do we as adults, but we often aren’t actively often taught healthy ways to deal when things become a little too much. Teaching children how to better deal with stress allows them to carry life-long tools to brush off any stress that threatens to dim their glow. Let them shine!
Our bodies are greatly effected by stress. Stress can cause physical discomforts and health issues for children, make them more susceptible to things like common colds, slow healing time and more. Luckily, when it comes to our bodies there are a lot of options to help reduce the effects of stress.
Teaching children to take deep breaths as a means of calming the body in a moment of stress is a tool they can carry with them the rest of their life. It is a simple, natural, way to ease stress at any time. I encourage my children to take a few deep, full, slow, breaths before bed to help them wind down, and also if they are experiencing frustration, anger, sadness, or over-stimulation. It helps them become aware of how their feelings are effecting their body and how they can better control them.
O.K. Taylor Swift may have been on to something with “Shake it Off.” One of the best ways to dissipate stress is to literally, physically, shake it off. Children need to be able to move, dance, play, and be active to release not just their abundant energy, but their stress. When I was a co-teacher for a classroom of three year olds one of the best parts of our day was morning movement. We would put on some music and dance around, sometimes even with balloons, and it set the tone for a good day, allowing children to alleviate stress they had already incurred from a rough night, the drop-off and separation from their parents, and their sometimes hectic morning rush. You can incorporate a similar activity in home life. Make it a habit to get moving. A walk, a short dance party, some children’s yoga, or even a game of toss can make a world of difference.
Eating the right foods for the right reasons can help naturally make us better at dealing with stress. Children are just as susceptible as us to reaching for something sugary and over processed as a reaction to stress. Teaching children that they will feel better long term by eating healthy can become a life-long tool. In addition to food, drinks play a huge role. Encouraging children to take a drink of water when they are experience stress can be extremely beneficial. Often, we unconsciously limit fluid intake in children to avoid things like having to use a public restroom (2x while grocery shopping), to avoid stopping on a drive, disrupting class, or wet pants. However, it is more important that children are well hydrated, and encouraged to quench their natural thirst for water.
Just like children, our minds full of both conscious and unconscious thoughts. Adults and children can change their stress level by bringing awareness to these thoughts, and realizing we do have some control over our thinking. For example, if you are thinking negatively about something, becoming aware of this and actively making an effort to reframe and redirect the thought can change the feeling we are experiencing, resulting in a better outcome. Teaching children this ability and showing them the power of it can greatly reduce their stress.
Tell me something good!
Once a day, typically at bed-time or in a car ride home, my children and I play “3 Good Things.” We each take a turn saying 3 things that made us happy today, or are thankful for. Often, our lists can’t be contained and we continue to add. This sets a positive tone, and is building a foundation so that even in times of stress we can seek the good. If one of them had a bad day we will talk about it, but then look for the positive.
Disappointment as Opportunity:
Dealing with disappointment is one of the most profound tools a child can have in dealing with stress. Disappointments are a part of life and dealing with them well should be too. When things don’t go as planned it is important to show children how to make it better. It happens, activities get cancelled, that gleaming toy in the checkout lane is not purchased, and we have all skinned a knee. Why do we fall? To learn to get back up. The baseball game was rained out? Perfect night for a good book and cuddles. Mom wouldn’t buy the toy? There is an awesome game that has been sitting in the cabinet for months.
Spirituality can be left out of our daily lives as busy adults, and it is often an overlooked part of children’s lives as well. Having a sense of spirituality, whatever that means to you, can be a huge resource for young and old to better deal with stress. Spirituality can be in a religious context, but it can also simply be looked at as what makes us human beyond our mind and body, it can be simply our connection to life itself. Whatever your perspective you can help encourage and nurture the spiritual aspect of your children to help with stress.
Being still and quieting the mind:
In a moment of stress, taking the time to feel what is beyond our body and mind can remind us that there is more to life than problems, give us a sense of security, and offer inner peace. Some people pray, some meditate, and some connect with nature, or simply let their thoughts rest and feel their existence. Whatever your view is on spirituality, you can teach your children to access this part of them in times of stress as a calming, comforting experience.