An important role of parenthood is to prepare children to be happy and healthy adults themselves. One of the factors that contributes to that is to help them learn to cope with stress.
No-one can avoid stress, either individually or within the family unit, but we can all learn how to deal with it.
These nine tips aim to help ease tension in your child.
1. Spot pressure points
What contributes to stress in your family’s daily life? Is it the morning routine? If so, set the alarm 15 minutes earlier to ease the squeeze on time and prepare lunchboxes and bags the night before. If it’s when you get home from work, make dinner ahead of time or assign your kids dinner-time tasks.
2. Show, don’t tell
“Give your kids a wide repertoire of positive coping strategies by managing your own stress in healthy ways,” says Dr Kenneth Ginsburg, Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. “That means after a hard day’s work, rather than reach for a drink, you take a walk, go to a yoga class or just have 15 minutes quiet time to yourself. Kids should know that their parents need to cope with stress too.
3. Fight fair
All couples argue, but how you do it may affect your kids’ stress levels. The fact that you argue isn’t as important as the intensity of the argument and whether it’s resolved. Children pick up on tension and it makes them feel vulnerable. Is there a right way to squabble? Nix name-calling, keep your sense of humour, and solve the problem as quickly as possible, and certainly before you go to bed. For example, an argument about money could become a productive, even if still heated, brainstorming session on cost-cutting.
4. Turn off your ‘mum alarm’
Something is bothering your child, but when you ask, ‘What’s wrong?’ you get a flat ‘Nothing.’ Don’t give up.
“Kids shut down with parents not because they hate them, but because of how intensely they love them and don’t want to disappoint them,” says Dr Ginsburg. “The parent alarm is when you react with crisis mode to any problem.” He says it’s important to calmly check in and tell your child: ‘It’s all right. We’ll get through this together.’ Ask questions in a way that shows your child you won’t be hurt, crazed or disappointed by the answer. Pick a low-stress time and place, like riding in the car, and gently share your concern: ‘How are you doing? You seem down. Am I reading you right?’ Then shut off your parent alarm and just listen.
5. Take a break
“Sometimes, the best way to solve a problem is to get away from it for a while,” says Dr Ginsburg. “If your child is stressing over something, suggest he go outside and play, read a book or do anything he enjoys - which can lend fresh perspective.”
6. Find perspective
Your kid flunks an exam and thinks, I blew this - I’ll never get into the course I want to do. Experts call this “catastrophising,” when kids project and then magnify the what-ifs. At these times, it’s important reinforce that we all make mistakes and can learn from them what to do differently next time. For example, if your child’s latest test score hits bottom, suggest he ask his teacher for help or start reading his notes for five minutes each night rather than cramming.
This is particularly important at this time of the year as Year 12 students are in final school exams. “We set them up to be the ‘be all and end all’ of school but they are not. If they don’t get the marks they want or they fail one subject or the entire qualification, there are always options. It’s not the end of the world as they know it,” advises Motherpedia contributor, Sue Brown, a former 40-year veteran teacher.
7. Turn big stresses into small tasks
Help your kids learn to break down big projects into manageable chunks. Having a plan and a timeline reduces anxiety and makes you feel like you’re making progress. Make sure they have a list and check things off as they are completed.
8. Hone healthy habits
Critical stress-management tools for all of us are physical activity and going to bed and getting up around the same times every day.
“Studies show kids who sleep well learn better and are less stressed,” says Dr Ginsburg. He also recommends teaching kids deep breathing to reduce stress anywhere:
- Close your eyes and inhale slowly; notice the air is cool. Exhale slowly and notice the air is warm. Repeat.
9. Finally, cultivate a habit of humour
Few things relieve stress like a good laugh. Make sure you always maintain a sense of fun and an ability to laugh with your child to ease tension and to help make the weight of the world a little lighter.