Not all stress is bad for children. A certain level of stress can teach our children resilience.
Stress is part of life, often everyday life. Our body can react under stress from having to get ready for the school bus, fear of running late and getting into trouble for something, worried about standing in front of the class to present your project, or being concerned if you are going to swim or run fast enough at the carnival.
Not all stress is bad. We need stress to keep us on our toes, to keep us striving towards the result or goal we want.
Stress is how we learn to solve challenges or problems, build knowledge and develop new skills. Children need to be allowed to experience stress and not continually protected from everything by parents. Only in this way can they learn to develop the skills they must have in their adult life. Skills to manage a variety of different stressors adult life brings.
In what ways can we help to reshape our child’s stress into a positive:
Communicate with them about what they are experiencing and feeling in their body. Let them know this is normal and the ways they can control it for themselves to lower this stress level. During stress, our body initiates a ‘fight or flight’ response. Stress hormones released by the adrenal glands have an important role to play. That’s why it can help to teach your children to recognise these feelings of stress and to understand they relate to what their bodies are doing.
Explain what the adrenal glands are for and how they’re needed to help and protect us from harm or danger. When feeling stressed or overwhelmed our heart races, breathing shallows, we feel panicky, hot and ready to run or fight. The problem is we often can’t do either, so we need to stop, manage these feelings and wait until this stress feeling passes. When a child understands what is happening, they are often very accepting and happy manage these feelings.
To help our child control this stress feeling, I suggest you advise the child to close their eyes, take some slow deep breaths and as they exhale, let the body know they are safe, it will pass and all is good.
- Listening and labelling the feelings/teaching them to recognize the feeling
When we recognise the feeling of stress is affecting us we need to notice it, and breathe it out slowly.
Rename the fear or stress, call it ‘Jane or Fred or anything’. I have had children label it black cloud, monster, even gulumit. Allow them to label and name this feeling they don’t want. Then when you discuss this Jane, Fred or gulumit feeling we become more disassociated from it. It is an external thing to us, therefore, making it easier to see, understand and adjust. It becomes a thing rather than within.
Explain these funny feelings are felt by everyone, mummy, daddy, even the teacher at school sometimes. It isn’t a matter of stopping the funny feeling, but managing, accepting and understanding it.
- Being patient
Everyone is different, and we sometimes struggle to understand our child’s response to something. Speak with them, model the behaviour you want them to emulate and encourage them to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’.
Developing resilience to stress enables us all to feel confident and have a sense of control. Allow your child to progress slowly and comfortably at their pace while asking them if there is anything they need support with. Sometimes if a child is shy or fearful about something they may just need you to stay with them a little while longer, knowing you will be close by for a while ‘just in case’. Slowly the child will progress and be able to walk away from you easier. This is progress and patience.
- Prepare them for making mistakes
Explain there is no perfect person on planet earth, we all have a hiccup and make a mistake sometimes. The thing to remember is to discuss what could be done different or better next time. Here we may need to make a suggestion or two of what they could do instead next time this situation occurs, allow them to choose the best one that will work for them and allow them to own it as their choice.
There can be several reasons children can feel stress; it can be rushing for the bus, being late for class, not getting the marks they want, not winning the race. It could be stress about are mummy and daddy going to fight and yell again, are they going to split up, where will I live. It can also include fear if the dog is going to die, Nana is really old is she going to leave us; so many things kids can stress and worry about.
If you notice your child withdrawn, talk to them, ask them to share their feelings, be curious. Always acknowledge their feelings as important to them and never dismiss their feelings. To you, it may be nothing, to your child it can be significant. This is the perfect time to guide and empower them, provide a different way to look at it, reframe their thoughts to something more positive.
- How they deal with things emotionally and socially
Parents can aid the child to focus on resilience. If a child is timid, shy or fearful, ask the child what they need not to feel this way. The saying ‘Fake it till you make it” is wonderful and kids can use this for a short time to get through something. Then they feel how great it was to have done that and what do they then want ?– to feel that good again.
We naturally want to protect our children from any harm, hurt or distress, what can happen unfortunately is they miss out on learning to build their resilience. Step back, allow them to do something that fears them, applaud their ability, provide support and positive comments then allow them to do it again and again. The first couple of times is always the hardest. Praise for every forward step to assist them to build their confidence, as this is what is normally lacking.
People who can cope with stress find it easier to ignore negative and painful things that have occurred. They find it easier to go through life more successfully.
Research also tells us that people who can cope with stress have fewer aches and pains in their body. Stressed people focus more on the negative, escalating even more stress in themselves. Those who learn to manage their stress have less stress due to the way they reframe things, look toward the positive and view a situation as just that before determining what needs to be done to improve or remove the stress.
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