Traditionally, many school-aged children love school and look forward to start of a new school year. But for other children, it’s also a time of great stress. In fact, stress—those overwhelming feelings of doubt about ourselves or our ability to handle things—is as common in children as adults.
The greatest challenge to parents today is teaching children to manage stress effectively. Children may react to excess stress with behavior that seems immature, inappropriate, or even disturbing. One child exhibits anxiety and tears the night before going back to school. Another child speaks of new teacher and asks her parents questions while trying to imagine the teacher's personality. Another child enjoys shopping for school clothes and looks forward to seeing new friends.
Stress can be terrifying to children who lack the emotional maturity or experience to understand and deal with it. The challenge for parents, teachers, and other caretakers include how to recognize signs of stress in children of different ages, how to know when stress threatens to overwhelm a child, and what to do about it.
In Nurture Your Child’s Gift, I offer excellent suggestions to help parents cope with their children’s stress. A stressed-out condition can result from a specific cause or from life in general. Here are some examples:
- At 17, Jen was a high school senior expecting to graduate with honors in the Spring. Just before Christmas, however, Jen’s father lost his job and the family had to move into the basement of a cousin’s house. Jen soon developed a severe allergy, then asthma. The illness cost her so much time from school that she required home-schooling to make up the difference.
- Mark was only two when his parents divorced. Confused, Mark wandered the house, calling plaintively for his father, but weekends with Dad made him cry. Most weekends, Mark developed upset stomachs that were so bad he’d miss preschool on Mondays.
Toddlers need to feel safe and comfortable. Stress for preschool children can arise from a new face at home or at day care, the disappearance of a familiar face, visiting lots of new places at once, or abrupt changes in the family’s structure, relationships or daily routine.
During the grade-school years, children become concerned with pleasing people like teachers, parents, guardians and coaches. School life—even a change in assigned seating or having to take a test—brings higher levels of stress every year. And when it comes to peers, even the threat of diminished acceptance is terrifying. Sleep-overs, birthday parties, sporting events and music competitions can trigger stressful reactions.
Through middle school and beyond, the pressures kids feel from parents, teachers, peers, society at large, and from within increases. Children have to learn adapt to these pressures. Because they have grown in their intelligence, curiosity and knowledge of community, demands for their attention, time, energy and effort can often feel like a tug of war. As in the cases of Mark and Jen, it is not unusual for life-altering events to express themselves in illness. At the University of Missouri, for instance, researcher Mark Flinn found that a child’s risk of upper-respiratory infection increases by 200 percent for the seven days following a high-stress event. And parents like Miranda’s might confuse what they believe are normal behavior with an expression of anxiety. Children often display their tensions in small acts that have aggressive undertones.
How You Can Help
- There are many ways parents can help their children deal with stress and stressful situations.
- Don’t try to fix everything for the child, and avoid offering advice. Sometimes just listening so that your child feels truly heard may be enough to relieve the stress.
- As you listen, ask questions that encourage your child to think a situation through. “What’s the next step?” or “How would you handle that?” are good questions. Ask a lot of “what-if” questions, too.
- Help children listen to themselves. Nurture Your Child’s Gift suggests quiet-time techniques for children to listen to nature sounds like rain or waves upon the beach, to their own heartbeat, or to recordings of whales, dolphins or birds.
- Encourage children to spend time listening to their thoughts. When they feel free to speak their own thoughts aloud about a situation, things suddenly become clear.
- Nurture Your Child’s Gift details a diaphragmatic breathing exercise for kids and parents. Shallow breathing is associated with the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. Deeper, effective breathing produces feelings of relaxation and calm.
- Use soothing and rhythmic music, even simple drumming, to help your child relieve muscle tension. It works!
- Don’t overlook exercise for releasing stress and tension. It works for your child just as it does for you. Have children walk the dog, get on the treadmill or stretch through easy yoga movements for children. Any movement they enjoy will help ease stress away.
- Parents can do much to alleviate stress in their children’s lives. Effectively dealing with your own stress is the first step. Showing your kids how to release their stress comes next.
Copyright © Caron B. Goode.
My Family Coach didn't have cliche, immediate answers to my questions about managing a toddler's outbursts. Instead, she asked me more questions about values and viewpoints. When we finished the discussion, i realized I was in complete harmony with my parenting values. Her viewpoint allowed me to talk through my fears of parenting too strictly.
Every day in your families, you may operate from the perspective of doing the best you know how to do in dealing with the challenges and opportunities. That is so true for everyone, even your coach, who probably came to her profession because of similar experiences. Would you choose to work with a coach If you knew you could and would be...
- More effective in relationships,
- More productive with your time.
- Better focused on your goals
- More successful in communication
If you knew you could accomplish your goal, then you would alter your behavior to correspond with these insights. Your family coach supports your breakthrough and speeds up your learning curve.
You Are Limited By What You Do and Don't Know
The only access you ordinarily have to change and to influence your family comes from these two areas:
1. What you know
2. What you don’t know
In efforts to achieve more or be a better person, you might learn to do something better, or try a different way you heard or read about. You try again a strategy that worked for you before. This is all good. The problem is that it doesn’t stick. The small increments of progress are just that….small, yet they can be powerful if they give you a new skill, relevant understanding, and a next step.
That is where the Family Coach enters the scenario. Few of us can make the changes personally we desire without help. We need feedback, another viewpoint, advice, a listener, a person who questions how we will get there and what will we have accomplished in our parenting.
Here is the success secret that few parents know:
Extraordinary growth comes from outside the area called “you don’t know” – your blind spots.
Imagine the big bubble right outside of your reach filled with a vast array of unusual, new ideas and advice you seek. However, you could be blind to the giant bubble of answers.
Very few family coaches will tell you what to do. In one sense, that rips off your self-discovery process for yourself and all the family members.
Instead, coaches listen, feel, observe, and ask to help you go to the inner bubble of personal knowing ---THAT is your unknown, unseen wisdom waiting to rise to the top.
You wouldn’t let your child climb on to a bike he doesn’t know how to ride without helping him balance, pedal and practice until he has a feel for the bike.
You stay balanced with a family coach until you feel the thrill of success just like your child careens downhill on his bike with hands in the air, “Wheeeeee.”
That is the thrill of accomplishment. Your child felt joyful at self-discovery, As a parent, you go through self-discovery too.
Good communication is a key to understanding your child better. Togther, parenting coaches and parents review the steps to maintaining a harmonious relationship that keeps the parent-child relationship healthier and flourishing.
Firstly, be genuinely familiar with your child's language especially during times of conflicts and confrontations.
Familiarize yourself with your child's words, the tone of voice, and emotional responsivity. Does the chid's speech tone suggest a specific emotion like anxiety, shyness, fear, or the need to dominate or be shy?
Secondly, learn how to accept the full range of your child's emotionality.
- How do you take the chid's overall behavior?
- Can you receive the emotions and feelings of your child?
- As you succeed in understanding his feelings, you are better able to guide him to express his unpleasant and unlikely feelings appropriately.
- Encourage a child's real feelings in conversation. Suppression of emotions and feelings are not healthy.
Thirdly, I have observed that not each parent shows a speaking child the courtesy of attention. Interrupting, bombarding the child with questions, or flinging anger and accusation signals that the child maintains her distance. Explain and make him realize that interrupting any speaker is considered rude by some adults.. This is also a way of instilling him some part of good values.
Fourthly, always be approachable. As much as possible, help your child know that she can approach you and not to hesitate to discuss any problem or requests. If the child realizes that open communication between him and you is always possible, imagine how much respect your child has for you!
Fifthly, ask questions so you gather further information, but not in an interrogating manner. Try to ask questions that solicit honest and direct answers from your child. How do you act and speak to your child, so that she feels confident with you.
Lastly, provide useful, helpful and assuring responses to your child's questions. Apply the principles of reflective listening. This way, you could have a clear and actual grasp of what it is your child is trying to tell you. Reflect on his words and the manner by which he talks. Understanding your child entails setting a good pattern of open communication between you both.
One sensitive issue parents contend with is their child's temperament. Understanding children's inborn traits is a key to better parenting and happier children, especially in the development years.
Before my daughter was born, I imagined her to be a specific type of a good-natured child. As she grew up, I realized my always viewing her as good-natured was a pre-conceived idea I had. Her childhood moods meandered through creative, sensitive, emotional, and even defiant in the early teen years. And she was good natured about most events in her life.
Understanding her temperament enabled me not to blame my self for her situations. Instead, I learned strategies to deal with difficult circumstances or conditions. One point of discipline I followed was to diffuse challenging situation so as not to escalate into major conflicts that might cause harm.
Temperament information helps you see how your child learns, responds, reacts, and behaves. Through the earlier years of development, you see reactions begin to form into a pattern of values, needs, and fears:
+++++ One child needs closeness, touch, and assurance from parents.Thus, he values following his parents, climbing in their laps and being cuddled or held.
His fear of not having the needs met, or when his needs are not met, he feels, hurt, lost, or angry.
+++++ Another youngster values being by herself--independence.
She plays with her dolls and likes doing so by herself.
Her need to learn through trial an error means that she pushes parents away sometimes with the familiar, "I can do it."
+++++ Children, who readily and quickly shift, show adaptive temperaments. They learn more by doing and practicing.
+++++ Children, who have slower-to-warm temperaments, learn by watching and rehearsing internally.
+++++ Children's challenging temperaments cause us to regroup:
- Ask what is the child going through?
- Is this a temperament trait or learned behavior that needs to change?
- Are the child's needs being met?
- Are fears causing issues?
- Has the child's value been diminished in any way?
This child views the world through optimistic eyes, adapts quickly and maintains positivity well. He is a natural learner, eats and sleeps regularly (has no trouble sleeping), is pleasant and cheerful, and displays a low-intensity mood.
Because this child feels deeply in certain situations, he has few significant emotional outbursts. This type comprises about 40% of all people.
The Feisty/Difficult/Spirited group of children comprises about 10% of the population. This grouping is the opposite of the flexible children. Feisty children are slow to adapt to the routines: napping, eating, homework, quiet time. Moreover, bowel movements are not regular. The spirited child has preferences for parents to discover and manage. On the hand, the child shows his mastery for specific tasks.
The feisty child has tantrums, is fussy, and can be unpleasant in disagreements. With high energy, this child explores with intensity and can get into mischief, On the other hand, he or she is bursting with energy and explores the surrounding and people intensely.
The third general temperament type is aptly called Slow-To-Warm, and 15% of the population belongs to this category. Slow to warm types are shy or highly-sensitive persons (which they sometimes are. They watch their world and usually observe on the outside of things before joining. Their internal clock is disrupted easily and shows up in irregular sleeping, feeding and other personal habits. This child seems to be always enjoying things or doing them at his own sweet pace.
The rest of the 35% of the population are combinations of several temperaments. They exhibit traits of all three temperament types and cannot be categorized into a single trait pattern. The feature they share is that they have characteristics of all three temperaments.
In all these temperament types, you will also find yours. Understanding children and their temperaments include understanding your own. Doing so will open your eyes to the many areas where you can connect to that of your children, or whether you are compatible with each other or not.