HELPING YOUR CHILD
By Larry Deavers
All of us have to manage stress on a daily basis . That stress may come from overwork , strained relationships , worry , low self-esteem , or even boredom . Stress is a normal and necessary part of life because it helps us stay focused and gives us a sense of purpose . However , when we go through periods of high stress for an extended length of time we can become distraught and even feel hopeless .
Children experience stress , too . It may seem that many problems a child or teen faces are not significant compared to adult worries ; however , proportionally , their stress can be just as debilitating as an adult facing financial , work or marital stress . Since their coping skills are not as well-developed , their stress can still seem just as overwhelming .
There are some stressors , though , that should not be the burdens of children or teens . Make sure their pressures are reasonable for their age and development level . Minimize unhealthy family stressors , such as ongoing drama , dysfunctional communication , or adult worries . You are most likely their primarily role model for handling stress ; make sure they are not feeding off of your unhealthy stress management skills , such as anger , over-sleeping , withdrawing , complaining , or self-destructive habits .
Teaching your child to cope with stress is extremely valuable in helping them to become mentally stable and able to persevere through challenges they will face as adults .
Spend time with your child . Making yourself available is one of the most significant ways you can give support . While not every opportunity to spend time together will result in a deep , meaningful conversation , those one-on-one times together create the opportunity to have discussions that never would happen otherwise .
Encourage activities with family and friends – Try to keep them engaged so that they do not socially withdraw or shut down . Social isolation often feeds our negative , self-defeating thoughts that drive up our stress and anxiety .
Teach them to focus on this moment or this day , only , rather than focusing on future fears and anxieties . Help your child to appreciate each day and find joy in the moment they are in . So many children and adults live their lives so focused on future “ what-if ’ s ” that they miss living out right now .
Break tasks down into small , manageable steps . Much of our anxiety comes from focusing on everything that can go wrong or thinking of having to accomplish everything right away . Helping your child focus on the very next step and seeing their successes along the way helps them work their way through any challenge .
Give them something to look forward to , like weekend activities , family game nights , family vacations . Having something that encourages your child to persevere through the stress of each day or each week gives them a sense of hope and a little light at the end of the tunnel .
Teach them healthy ways of expressing their needs – teach them how to speak assertively – teach them a good vocabulary of feeling words so they can express more than just anger and sadness . Recognizing when you are feeling rejected , embarrassed , lonely , guilty or fulfilled will empower your child to express themselves in ways that can help identify and resolve their problems instead of withdrawing or acting out .
Teach your child the importance of self-care . Any one of us can only do so much . We all need downtime where we can just relax and do whatever recharges our batteries . It ’ s okay to ask for help , take time off from certain activities , or to say NO to certain obligations .
Stress is not always a bad thing , as it teaches us to manage difficult situations . Allowing children and teens to resolve some issues on their own helps build confidence . Sometimes it is best to just be there as a support , not as a rescuer .
The most impactful lessons your child or teen will learn about handling stress is what they observe by watching you . If you want them to learn these coping skills , you will have to evaluate your own ways of managing stress and be sure that you are demonstrating positive and empowering strategies for your child .
Larry Deavers is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker & Executive Director of Family Counseling Service of West Alabama .