In today’s world, studies show that children and teenagers are more stressed out than ever before, with the combinations of school, peer pressure, sports, and of course the rising issue of screen time.
Now of course, they face the added stress of having their entire world turned upside down by the situation regarding Corona virus. Seemingly over night they have lost face to face contact with friends, teachers, and in some cases family members. For young minds, this is huge!
Whilst as parents we cannot protect our children from all stress, what we can do help them become more resilient, so they navigate challenges more confidently and bounce back from hardships.
Below I have included 5 steps you, as parents, can take to help teach your child/children healthy strategies for coping with stress.
STEP ONE: Notice and re-frame catastrophic thinking
Often children (and some adults too) jump to worst possible outcomes when faced with stress. I have often sat and listened to my daughter say things like:
“If I make a mistake everyone will laugh at me! They will think I’m stupid!” or “She laughed at me when I farted and now everyone knows, everyone thinks I’m just dumb!”
If you can relate to this example regarding your child/children, the first thing to do is to validate your child’s emotions so he/she feels heard and understood. You could say something along the lines of “I understand how you feel and it’s really normal to feel this way.”
Next, use the worst case scenario. Ask your child “what is the worst thing that could happen?” If he/she makes a mistake, what’s the worst thing that could happen? Also, ask tour child how likely it is that this will happen, and whether anything else could happen? Finish by asking your child what they would do if the worst case scenario happened. Help your child come up with a solution, as it will help him/her feel more in control.
The purpose here is not to dismiss your child’s concerns but help them realise the worst case scenario is probably not as bad as they originally thought.
STEP TWO: REFRAMING
It’s important to teach your child how to shift from ‘stress is bad,’ to ‘stress helps.’ When children understand stressful situations won’t last forever, and that instead represent challenges that can be overcome, it really empowers them.
To quote Cognitive neuroscientist Ian Robertson, “Children need to experience a certain amount of adversity so that both their body and mind become toughened and resilient.”
Within this step are key things you can practice and teach your child.
Be mindful of your response to stress
If you understand that stress is inevitable, and offers an opportunity to grow, and you demonstrate this to your child, they will learn from you. Children sense our stress instantly – and they begin to feel stressed too. Talk openly with our child, tell you feel stressed, but that you are working through it and learning from it. That stress is nothing to be feared, but rather a natural part of life.
Take time to understand why your child feels stressed
To adults a child’s stress may seem insignificant, but to the child, it’s huge. Ensure you offer your child lots of time to talk to you about what is worrying them
Help your child understand stress from a positive point of view
Talk to your child about the fact that stress comes and goes. That it’s a natural part of life and an opportunity to grow. Give them examples of how you have dealt with stress positively and learnt from it.
Help your child find evidence of their growth through stress
Talk about previous situations in which your child faced challenges and hardship and succeeded. These don’t need to be huge successes, just something that can relate to and see their achievement in.
STEP THREE: MINDSET FROM FIXED TO GROWTH
It’s important to re-frame stress, so your child moves from a fixed (this is it, this is the worst!) mindset to a growth (I have power, I can change this) mindset.
When stressed, as I am sure you know, we can feel quite overwhelmed. Our thinking becomes very fixed. Encourage your child to come up with different thoughts around how they can navigate what they are experiencing.
For example, if your child says things like “I can’t do it!” see if you can help them find a more positive approach such as “even though I don’t think I can do this, if I put some time into it, I can improve.”
Mindset doesn’t change over night, it takes consistent small steps.
STEP FOUR: TEACH PROBLEM SOLVING
Once your child has learnt how to re-frame their stress and develop a growth mindset, it’s important to teach him/her how to put this into practise by problem-solving.
This takes time, but key steps to begin with are:
Name and validate emotions
Children don’t always know what they are feeling, they are simply aware that something doesn’t feel good. Help them to learn how to name what they are feeling, for example anxious, worries, overwhelmed. Then, validate their feelings by repeating back to them, for example: “I understand you are feeling worried about such and such.”
Help your child to feel calm by using some of the ideas in the next step. If the feelings are intense, simply holding your child and breathing with them helps. It is important that they process rather than bury what they are feeling.
Help your child to brainstorm solutions to their problems to help them feel more in control and empowered. For example, if they are worried about an exam they could plan to study with a friend. Encourage them to come up with several solutions so they have choices. It is also useful to help your child look at the positive and negative consequences of their solutions before choosing one. Ask your child open ended questions so they do most of the problem solving themself.
Once your child knows how to problem solve, they will be able to tackle stressful situations on their own.
STEP FIVE: TEACH STRESS MANAGEMENT TECHNIQUES
The above works best when your child is calm, and there are a few things you can teach your child to help them approach stress from a calm state of mind
Breathing techniques – there are several simple mindfulness techniques available and lots of online resources for them.
Time in nature – this is so beneficial! Take your child for a walk, look at flowers, birds and trees. If the weather is good, let your child run around barefoot.
Journaling – writing down their thoughts and feelings is a fantastic way for your child to process and manage stress. In my group https://www.facebook.com/groups/kidsjournalingtechniques I share prompts, resources and teachings.
Yoga – bringing focus back to the body is essential when dealing with stress.
Remember that these steps are not intended to eliminate stress, but rather to help your child learn to calmly deal with stress.
If you are interested in teaching your child to journal, do join my facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/kidsjournalingtechniques group where I share prompts, videos, resources and teachings.