No one goes through life completely free from stress or battles.
But if we always protect our kids from these valuable learning experiences by protecting them, fixing and problem solving for them we rob them from some very useful opportunities that they will value (and need) later in life.
So when your kids are feeling upset or stressed STOP yourself from stepping in too quickly to try and ‘fix it’. Rather try to ‘teach’ them how to deal with these situations by using the 5 tips below. CLICK here to read more about ‘Building resilience in our children’.
5 tips to help your kids cope with stress
- Stay calm yourself and don’t go ‘stressed against stressed’: when our kids suffer, we suffer. And no parent likes to see their kids stressed so it can make us stressed too. But try to take a deep BREATH and PAUSE when you feel that your child’s deep emotions are making you stressed. STOP, BREATHE and tell yourself, ‘this has nothing to do with me, these are my child’s emotions and I need to distinguish them from my own’. That is the difference between showing empathy and sympathy, when we are willing and open to listening without fixing and can help them contain their tears and emotions. Sympathy is when we cry with them, feel sad with them, not for them. Your child needs you to stay strong, listen and show that you accept and can contain how they feel…. if you can take it so can they!
- Make space for talking: life is lived at 100 miles an hour and we might feel that we spend a lot of time ‘around’ our kids. But try to be ‘with them’, where you are available at some point of the day, every day (or when you can), so your kids feel they can come and talk to you about what’s stressing them. You can set time aside where you are 100% zoned into your child and his or her needs. Where you are not doing chores, on the phone, checking emails or even thinking about other things – right now you are mentally and physically present and connected. This will make your child feel that he can come to you and tell you about any worries.
- Make it normal to talk about stress: it can be difficult to talk about stress so bring it to the surface and make it natural and OK to be stressed. You can start by verbalising when you feel stressed yourself, ‘I feel a bit stressed because XX but I am aware of it and can manage it, I feel a bit more tense than before but it has nothing to do with you’. When your children tell you about their stresses try not to solve or fix, and don’t tell them what to feel or not to feel i.e. ‘don’t be stressed!’ or, ‘you will be fine’ or, ‘it is nothing to worry about’ etc. It is not our job to control their emotions but to teach them what to do with them. Instead come from a place of: I LISTEN, I UNDERSTAND and I ACCEPT, ‘I can HEAR that you are really stressed right now about XX and I understand that you feel upset about it and that is OK, we all get stressed and upset at times’. Sometimes the right answer to our kids challenges or stress is listening. Ask open ended questions to help them explore things in a constructive way, ‘tell me more about how the situation made you feel, or ‘what have you tried so far?’, or ‘what would you tell a friend to do who might feel like you are feeling?, – not just WHY do you feel stressed? or WHAT will you do? etc.
- Put the brakes on for your kids: life can become busy for our kids too (school, social activities, homework, study, sports, after school activities etc.) and there is so much pressure on our kids to do ‘something’, perform and be better all the time. This leaves little space to just BE, feel, think and connect with themselves – and yes even to be bored! Support your child to have unscheduled time every day where they can enjoy the silence, the boredom and avoid pressure from DOING and performing. You don’t have to entertain them all the time – time to think is a way to recharge, calm down, think and learn to breathe slowly. Create ‘good’ times: support your child to do things they like, feel good at and are confident with every day. It is a great stress relieving tool to do something we like and enjoy every day without the need to show and perform. It can be that your child likes to do Lego, draw, bake, read, listen to music, dance etc. Think about when your kids are at their best? And make sure they do more of that and that they do it for themselves, not to show off, perform or get attention.
- Teach coping skills: if your child is open for it you can teach him to:
- Take a deep breath. Pause and take a time out…
- Take yourself to your favourite place or to a time you felt good: encourage him to describe it, smell it, feel it – visualise it.
- Pick a number – this helps to distract negative thoughts. If your child is old enough you can even encourage him to go through the alphabet and say a place that starts with A, then B then C until he has calmed down. Breathe A – Amsterdam – breathe B – Blackpool etc.