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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Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
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.
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.
Mindset is about how you think and use your mental focus. The term emotions refer to your feelings, and each affects the other. -Emotion intertwines with mood, temperament, personality, disposition, and motivation.
Emotions and Strength
Want strength, then rile up your emotions like Norse warriors of long ago. The warriors were so called because they created fist of anger before entering the battlefield. They caused adrenaline to pump to prepare to win a war. In this agitated state, they felt invulnerable and accomplished feats of incredible strength.
Under extreme stress or emotional overwhelm, your body produces excess amounts of testosterone, adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones increase you heart rate, focus, awareness and muscle tone for the extra strength.
Use Your Emotional Strength for Calm, Collected Focus
Calm, collected focus is about creating and being in a "flow state."
We also call flow by several descriptors:
- Being in the zone or fully immersed mental state.
- Feeling of energized focus
- Full involvement
- Complete absorption of in what one does
- Results that are focused, engaged, maybe losing track of time.
A flow state is a feeling of calm, focused bliss, like in extreme sports when athletes persofrm effortlessly.Or like in music where the melody or the rhythm moves a person to sing or to dance.
No fear. No doubt. No bursts of anger or unwanted emotion.
You do your best work in a flow state. This is when we are happiest.
Do you try to live your life as much as possible. The problem is that you may have anxiety or stay overly busy with chores and things we need to do. These limitations leave you stressed, anxious or busy and they take you out of the moment. You face a challenge when your body and mind cannot possibly be in-sync when you are worrying.
Entering flow means being in the moment which not only makes you happy and confident, it also makes you unstoppable. You take control over your emotions.
So how do you take back control over your emotions?
- Check into how you feel, especially if your energy is low, or you you are distracted or even in a bad mood.
- To change your mood, I suggest Full-Wave Breathing to change your physiology in the literal sense.
- If you learn to breathe correctly (using belly breathing to fill the lower portion of the lungs, then the upper portion). If you use slow, controlled breaths, then you will be able to lower your heart rate, blood pressure, and calm your entire body.
- This will change your parasympathetic tone, taking you out of ‘fight or flight’ and into ‘rest and digest’. Try it the next time you feel overly stressed, overly competitive or worked up after an intense workout – your heart rate will slow and your mind will grow calmer.
- For your mental framework, another tool to use is called CBT---‘Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’ and this is a popular form of psychotherapeutic intervention used to treat phobias and other anxiety disorders.Take the intention of CBT strategies to look at the content of your thoughts. The self-talk that you give yourself to work yourself into a panic, or to calm yourself down. If you are thinking things like “I’m worried I might fall off that ledge” then of course you are going to be scared. If you think things like “I’m grateful for my friends” then you will be less likely to feel unhappy with where you are in life. You can use CBT to challenge long-held beliefs and to break negative self-talk habits by challenging your thoughts and testing your hypotheses. This is called ‘cognitive restructuring’.
- In the short term, you can use CBT techniques in order to more honestly assess your state of mind and your emotions and to then change the way you feel about a situation.So if you were stressed that you had a deadline you couldn’t meet and it was ruining your evening, then you might use cognitive restructuring in order to assess the thoughts making you stressed and replace them with more productive ones.For example, you might consider:
- What is the point of being stressed? Will it make matters better?
- What’s the worst case scenario? Would it really be that bad to tell the boss you can’t finish work on time? Are they expecting too much of you anyway?
- When was the last time you did this?
- Are there other ways you could lessen the blow?
- What would you rather pay attention to right now?
Combine this with controlled breathing and bring your focus to the thing that is most useful to you right now.
In the long term, you can use CBT in order to bridge the gap between your thoughts and your physiology. You see, your physiology and your emotions are designed to drive you toward desirable states: sex, food, shelter, love, success, social acceptance.