Last week iVillage asked the community a question: “Do you think today’s kids are more stressed out than kids were when you were young?”
How would you have responded?
Over eighty-nine percent of parents said “YES!” and they’re not alone. Child development experts, educators, other parents and even the kids agree. Stress is mounting with our kids. In fact, it has risen so high for college freshman that mental health professionals are greatly concerned. What’s more, stress symptoms are showing up in kids as young as three and four years old and are also increasing among young girls.
While we can’t roll back the clock to a more care-free era nor eliminate all stress in our kids’ lives, we can help our children learn coping strategies. I’m convinced it may be one of the most critical skills our kids need these days to survive and thrive out there in the real world. And there’s no better time to teach stress busters (and relaxers) then now. (By the way, the best news is if you teach these skills to your kids they will also help reduce your own stress as well). The first stress-busting step is to identify how each of your kids handles stress.
STRESS SIGNS TO LOOK FOR
Each child displays stress a bit differently. Some kids are more care-free (like my middle kid. When he was four he wanted a lounge chair from his Godmother. He’s still laid back. My oldest kid came out tense. I spent hours massaging open his little hands clenched in fists. I can’t change my kids temperaments, but I can help them learn to handle life better. The parenting secret is to watch your child carefully so you can identify his unique stress signs. Then whenever you see those signs mounting, you can help him find ways to lower that stress. Here are a few of common symptoms of stress. How is your child doing?
* Shaky hands; lightheadedness
* Difficulty sleeping; nightmares; night terrors
* Refusal to eat; overeating
* Moodiness; sadness
* Recurring physical ailments: headache, stomachache, nausea; diarrhea; constipation;
* Trouble concentrating and focusing; sudden dip in school work
* Restlessness or irritability
* Social withdrawal or isolation (retreats)
* Nail biting; hair twirling; thumb-sucking; fist clenching; feet tapping
* Acting out, anger; aggression
* Regressing to baby-like behavior
* Bed wetting
* Much clingier; more dependent or more fearful
Stress is normal, so it’s normal for kids to display most of these stressed signs every now and then, so look for a marked change in your child’s normal temperament or personality that lasts longer than two weeks and stress-reducers you’ve tried are not helping. It’s time to seek help from a mental health professional. Don’t wait: Stressed-out kids are two to four times more likely to develop depression, and as teens they are much more likely to become involved with substance abuse.
Six Parenting Stress-Busting Secrets to Use With Your Family
Now that you know how your kid handle stress you can help him learn a few stress-busting secrets. The secret is to find ones that work best for your child and your family. Here are a few I shared on the Today Show this week:
1. Identify Potential Stress Triggers. Start by tuning into your kid’s concerns and complaints. Don’t minimize or dismiss any of her worries, but instead listen quietly. Then spend a week evaluating your child’s daily schedule of school, home, and extra-curricular activities (ie., sports, dance, church group, music). Your first step is to identify what could be bringing on stress. An overextended schedule? Frightening nightly news on the TV? A bully on the bus? Too much yelling at home?
2. Eliminate Those Stressors That You Can. Is there anything you can do to eliminate the stress? Teach a bully-proofing strategy so he can stand up to the mean-spirited kid. Hire a tutor to reduce the pressure from the science homework. Vow to stop yelling in front of the kids. Is there one thing that might help reduce the stress? Turn off that scary nightly news.
3. Reduce One Activity. Spend a week evaluating your child’s daily schedule of school, home, and extra-curricular activities (ie., sports, dance, church group, music). How much free time does your child have left?If you can cut out just one thing in your child’s weekly activity, it may make a tremendous difference in reducing their stress and anxiety. It could be an activity that you want but may not be a top priority for him.
4. Keep to Family Routines. Research shows that sticking to a structure and nightly bedtime routine will help reduce stress. Is there anything you can do to keep things more low key and structured for your child? Also remember those Family Meals, bedtime rituals, nighttime stories, hot baths, mugs of hot cocoa, hugs and backrubs all do reduce stress and create great family memories.
5. Teach a Stress-Buster. An important parenting secret to keep in mind is this: Anytime you want to decrease one behavior (such as stress or anxiety) you need to help your child learn a new behavior to replace it. Here are a few stress-busting strategies that kids say are effective. Teach a few to your child and then see which one works best. Then practice it over and over until your child can use it on his own to “bust stress.”
* Positive self-talk. Teach your child to say a statement inside her head to help her stay calm and handle the stress. Here are a few: “Chill out, calm down.” “I can do this.” “Stay calm and breathe slowly.” Or “It’s nothing I can’t handle.”
* Elevator breathing</strong>. Tell your child to close his eyes, slowly breath out three times, then imagine he’s in an elevator on the top of a very tall building. He presses the button for the first floor and watches the buttons for each level slowly light up as the elevator goes down. As the elevator descends, his stress fades away.
* Stress melting. Ask your child to find the spot in his body where he feels the most tension; perhaps his neck, shoulder muscles, or jaw. He then closes his eyes, concentrates on the spot, tensing it up for three or four seconds, and then lets it go. While doing so, tell him to imagine the stress slowly melting away.
* Visualize a calm place. Ask your child to think of an actual place he’s been to where he feels peaceful. For instance: the beach, his bed, grandpa’s backyard, a tree house. When stress kicks in, tell him to close his eyes, imagine that spot, while breathing slowly.
* Find a relaxer. Every child is different, but watch to see what helps your child relax. Listening to music? Taking a hot bath? Reducing TV in the evening? Sleeping a bit longer? Exercising? Encourage your child to use “his relaxing method” on a regular basis.
6. Take care of yourself. The truth is happier, less-stressed parents make happier, less-stressed kids. Take care of you so you can take care of your children. Most parents are concerned that they don’t have time for themselves that might help them stay less stressed. So why not incorporate stress reducers as a family? After all, kids and grownups are feeling the pressure these days, so find a stress buster that works for your family and do it together. Practice meditating with the kids, doing yoga with your daughter, going to a gym with your son, riding bikes with your preschoolers, listening to a relaxation tape with your kids. Do whatever you fancy–but incorporate that stress reducer into your daily routine with your kids. That way your kids will not only learn a stress-reducer but you’ll actually help you and your family find ways to limit stress.
REALITY CHECK: So what’s the best stress buster you’ve found successful with your family? When’s the last time you’ve done it together?
All the best for you and your family!