In today’s fast-faced and electronically-driven world, it is often challenging to manage the stress that comes with our busy schedules and countless responsibilities. It seems that both parents and children alike are busier than ever, and feeling “stressed out” is certainly not a foreign concept. While many factors may be out of our control, there are some key things we can do to help our children manage their stress and make good decisions:
- Healthy identification and expression of emotions: Stress is directly tied to our emotions, and our ability to recognize and understand our own feelings is the first step to being emotionally healthy. Sometimes we inadvertently teach our children that feelings are wrong or bad, and that certain emotions, specifically anger or sadness, should be suppressed rather than addressed. But our emotions serve a purpose, and are there to express a need. When we are sad, we need comfort. When we are afraid, we are seeking the removal of a real or perceived threat. Simply suppressing our emotions can lead to negative outbursts, dysfunctional relationship patterns, and even pathology. Helping your child identify what he is feeling is the first step in producing a healthy adult. If your child is vocal, sit down and talk to her about an emotional reaction you may have noticed. “That must have made you really angry when your sister took your ____.” “Were you disappointed that you didn’t win the contest?” If your child is younger, or has difficulty expressing himself verbally, you can encourage him to draw a picture of how he’s feeling, write it down on paper, or act it out with a puppet. Once you’ve identified the emotion, remember to express to them that it is okay to have that feeling, but it is what they do with it that is important. “It is okay to be angry with your brother when he breaks your toy, but it is not okay to hit him.”
- Help your child develop healthy coping skills: Once your child has learned to recognize what she is feeling when she is feeling it, then she can begin to address it in a healthy manner. Help him brainstorm some healthy ways of responding (rather than reacting) when he does become angry, anxious, etc. Remember that each child is different, and coping skills vary depending upon their personality and temperament. Journaling is an excellent tool, and there are several great resources out there, including The Feelings Book Journal by American Girl. Art and music are also excellent outlets. Or perhaps you have an active child who has trouble sitting still. They may benefit from some simple yoga moves such as downward dog or a cat stretch, or acting out how they would solve their problems as their favorite superhero. Be sure to incorporate slow breathing and keep it light and fun. You may be as creative as you like with these activities, and you may even find that they are both enjoyable and helpful for learning more about your child and developing an even stronger bond.
- Identifying consequences: Every action that we take will lead to either a positive or negative consequence. Help your child recognize that she has a choice of how she may respond to a given situation, and what may happen as a natural or logical result of that choice. Eating too many Oreos will likely result in a stomachache. Finishing homework right away will allow more time for fun activities. If a child understands both the positive and negative consequences of his actions, he is more likely to make good choices even when no one is watching.
The more that your child is able to identify and cope with difficult emotions, the better their ability to manage stress and make healthy decisions that will benefit them in the future. Parenting can be challenging and frustrating, but take heart in knowing that simply taking the time to understand, nurture, and teach your child will make all the difference in helping them become a successful adult. Finally, if you feel that your child is suffering from anxiety and/or depression, please do not hesitate to seek professional help. There are some excellent resources out there for both children and parents, and you do not have to go through it alone.
By Chara Ward, LCSW
Chara Ward is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who currently operates a private practice in San Marcos, CA. She offers counseling services to children, adolescents, and adults. For more information on her practice or to schedule an appointment, please call (760) 410-8021 or visit her website: www.charatherapy.com