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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.
Consultants and coaches supporting people through life changes can use these tips.
The largest and most necessary step to change is acceptance. Life events always change, and expecting and accepting that premise helps us cope more readily. My friend Louisa received a diagnosis of cancer. Through the support of her family and friends, she coped well during the treatment sessions. All of us, who supported her healing journey, were grateful that she was not embarrassed to ask for help. She gladly allowed our small acts of kindness to ease her path. Louisa got over feeling guilty when asking for help, and I got over reminding her that I was there to support her.
2. Learn to Shift Out of Your Comfort Zone
Does it seem that changes occur as soon as you are comfortable or set in a routine? Most likely, you don't expect a major change if your guard is down.
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3. Talk About Your Feelings Towards Change
If you tend to let things build up inside, choose now to stop that habit. You may be a person who doesn't like to share personal feelings. Or you might be embarrassed to share them. If the changes are at work, for instance, consider talking to your manager about the impact of those changes. Present your concerns in a professional manner and stick to purposeful breathing which helps you feeling angry or overwhelmed.
4. Try to Turn the Change in Your Favor
The phrase turn lemons into lemonade has widely been overused. However, it’s hard to deny the meaning of it and the impact of that meaning. If you are dealing with change, in one form or another, see what angles you can use to make it work to your benefit.
5. Keep Changes You Can Control to a Minimum
If you try to enact too many changes at once, it may overwhelm the people who are affected by them. People need time to absorb those changes and incorporate them into their lives. Sometimes, the changes you put into place may be out of your control. However, if you do have control over them, introducing them slowly over time helps those who affected to adjust and accept more easily.
6. Join Support Groups
If you have been affected by changes and needed to talk to another person, then you know that we need each others' support. This is so true when death or a long-term illness occurs. Are the types of changes you experience similar to others' experiences. Would a support group help in adjusting?
7. Trust Your Instincts
You may be forced into situations or decisions that go against what you believe.. If you find yourself in such a situation, it’s best to go with your gut or trust your instincts. If the change doesn’t feel right and you have no power to counter it, try to remove yourself from the situation. I have counseled others in tough situations, and solutions varied from changing jobs to taking time from work and seeking another person to help you clarify your vision and feelings. If you need help, seek it out.
8. Change Can Lead to Unforeseen Opportunities
The whole point of being able to deal with change effectively is acceptance. When you start to focus on change being something that is good, opportunities have a way of finding you. These opportunities may not have presented themselves had the changes not occurred.
Emotional resilienceenables you to bounce back after difficult experiences. Fortunately, this is a skill that you can develop to get through stressful times with greater ease.
Here are some of the benefits of becoming more emotionally resilient and a few strategies for developing this very helpful skill.
The Benefits of Becoming More Emotionally Resilient
Experience greater happiness. Adversity is to be expected but you can control your emotional reaction. By putting the best face on things, you'll see the opportunities for learning and growth that come with challenging situations. A positive attitude will also help you recover from disappointments more quickly
.Make progress towards your life goals. Complications will arise throughout your life. Being flexible makes it easier to accept and surmount the obstacles that arise in your path. For example, if one scholarship fails to come through, explore other options for financing your college education.
Strengthen your relationships. People are naturally drawn to happy people. You're likely to have more harmonious relationships if you can keep up your spirits. By contrast, depression often makes others feel like withdrawing.
Boost your self-esteem. Becoming more adaptable helps you accomplish more. In turn, those accomplishments and healthy relationships make you feel more confident.
Act responsibly. Under pressure, you may feel tempted to get angry or hurt or act out. Emotional resilience helps you to keep your composure and makes you less prone to saying something that you might regret.
Cultivating a calm mind helps your immune system keep you healthy. Studies show that managing stress can even help you maintain your cognitive functions as you age.
Methods for Becoming More Emotionally Resilient
Know your purpose in life. It's a big endeavor, but discovering your purpose in life is fundamental to your ability to navigate challenges. A mission motivates you.
Set realistic goals and make specific plans. Some things are beyond your control, but smart planning can enhance your stability. Set goals you can achieve and break them down into easy steps.
Be aware of your emotions. If you can be mindful of what you're feeling, you can give yourself permission to evaluate the situation before reacting. Moreover, deep breathing provides some time to see a constructive solution before getting angry, hurt, or being irrational.
Practice patience and persistence. Make a commitment to yourself to see things through even when difficulties arise. For example, if you get declined after one job interview, transfer your energies to the next opportunity.
Slow down. Sometimes you get more done by slowing down. Lack of sleep or perpetual multi-tasking can cause stress and irritating tension. Give yourself a break to refresh your brain and your body.
Act happy. Just trying to appear happier can help you lift your mood after a setback. Treat yourself to a funny movie or call a friend who helps you laugh.
Learn to ask for help. Make it easier for your loved ones to support you. Practice asking for help in a respectful manner while being specific about what you need.
Be generous. The more you give to others, the more likely they are to reciprocate in your time of need and the better you'll feel about yourself.
Emotional resilience is a powerful asset for accomplishing more in life.
Do you know that the tool--creative visualization-- allows for manifestation? Using viewing, as it is intended, changes your circumstances and sometimes your entire life. Concentrating and focusing on a particular outcome can, indeed, make it happen because I have experienced it several times in my life.
When I was a divorced mom with a beautiful young daughter, I read the novel Hawaii during the summer months that school was out. The author James Michener, wrote with such fluency that the story mesmerized me. I day-dreamed about Hawaii and what life there might be for a Special Education teacher.
I imagined it often enough that I unwittingly created a marriage to a native Hawaiian teacher. I was not careful what I asked for, and the union dissolved after seven years.
Visualization works. When paired with positive emotional states, it works better.
Goodman was a successful insurance salesman, who was well-versed in creative visualization. He visualized his entire insurance business.
In the 1980's, a plane crash rendered Morris paralyzed and unable to use any part of his body other than his brain. He breathed on his own with the help of a ventilator.
Doctors were not hopeful. His family made plans to support his limitations as best they could. Meantime, Morris communicated with the staff and his own family by blinking his eyes. What he told them surprised everybody – that he planned on walking out of the hospital on his own.
Morris used creative visualization to see and feel himself breathing and walking without help. He visualized leaving the hospital, and even the very route he would take home.
At one point, he convinced the medical staff that he wanted to attempt breathing on his own. He claimed he had an urge to breathe on his own and he wanted to try. They removed the ventilator tube, and he did breathe on his own.
From that point on, he walked out of the hospital--something that the hospital staff believed they would not see. Morris continued with his successful insurance business, and also became a motivational speaker, proving that it only takes the brain and creative visualization to change your entire world.