STRESS Such a huge part of our lives as adults is spent dealing with, mitigating, and finding ways around stress. In some ways, as parents, it’s really easy to slip into seeing our kids as nothing more than a huge stress generating machine. Some days it seems like everything we touch turns to stress, like some perpetual grade school picture day.
It’s hard enough as adults to come up with ways to cope with varying stress levels, but the same is true for kids. Kids have stress these days?! Wha?! I know. I can hear MY parents’ refrain: “What does a KID have to be stressed about?” But there are all kids of things that can throw a kid’s world upside down. It’s not all cake and punch and if we treat it as though it should be, we’ll have a bunch of cracked out kids on cake and punch who will eventually be pissed off adults when they can’t just live on cake and punch.
Suffice it to say, I am not a doctor. I am not a stress expert. I am a parent. Everybody knows that every kid is different. What works for you and your kids may not work for me and my kids and vice versa – but part of the beauty of digital media is that we can spread these tips around for free very quickly and efficiently, so I’ll make with the tips right away and then we can talk about what works or what doesn’t in the comments section. I’ll also muse about picture day at school in general at the end and you can read that and comment on it if you like too, but I won’t “put the weather at the end” as it were.
So – on with the tips:
1) Practice deep breathing. May seem kinda silly and foreign and hard to get your kids to understand or be interested in, but this was a key for my son that unlocked his ability to self-regulate stress a bit early on. I’m not saying you need to go whole hog and teach your kids yoga – that’s great if that’s for you. I don’t know yoga, I don’t know the exact science about why it works and I don’t know what proper, official techniques you can apply. I do know that it helps me when I pause, take some persctive and add some oxygen to my brain. The sam worked for him and may work for you too. Try it. Let me know what you find.
2) Find out what the major stressors for your kid are and remove them. Again, may sound overly obvious and simple – but often we lose track of taking the time to really examine what is going on with our kids. Sure, a tantrum is a tantrum and you have to deal with it – sometimes very quickly and often there is not enough time to delve deeply into influencing factors. Again, I’m not a doctor, so I don’t know the science behind what causes every kid to have every stressor – but I am a parent, and I do know that loud noises make my kid want to freak out. I noticed that every time we went to a restaurant that was loud he would get into some kind of trouble, usually involving an issue about which he and I had already had much discussion and over which he seemed to have been moving into being able to have control. The noise level was serving as a kind of causal factor. Again, I’m not a scientist, but what worked for me is keeping that fact in my head as I decided how to manage or discipline him in the midst of a lound envirnment and letting that fact influence my response – also talking openly with him about the noise, calling attention to the fact that I know it is loud too, and trying to come with ways to facilitate ability to cope. Obviously we can’t just NOT got to loud restaurants. Sometimes restaurants (especially those geared toward having kids in tow) are just LOUD. We have to deal with it. That’s what has worked (so far) for me. What works for you?
3.) Keep channels of communication open. This one relates to the last. Again, it may seem like common sense that you kid is free to tell you when they’re stressed – but that is not always the case. As adults we pick up on a myriad of cues to tell ieach other when it is ok and not ok to point out that something is causing stress and kids will err on the side of caution for fear of being chided for “complaining.” It’s hard to talk about stress without sounding like you are whining. Adults have problems with it enough and we’ve had years to master the finer points. Be proactive about starting the conversation about stress. Talk about what it is with your kids. It’s a tough concept to grasp – even as adults – but the earlier we start talking about it, the more likely we are to develop a healthy understanding of it in the long run.
So there you have it. Those are my three tips. Let me know what you think. Obviously school picture day was a stressful day for us. For my kid, (slightly Autism Spectrum) the idea that there were special steps and precautions and rules on that particular day was odd. We take pictures every day these days, right? To a kid, what’s the diff? But we have these rules around “PORtraits, yes?” (read – snobby faux british accent.)
Understanding the complexities of our varied rules and expectations can help us in being understanding of how our kids learn (or don’t) about them. Keep the diologue open. Talk early. Talk often. Talk hard, if you need to (to quote a cheesy 90’s flick I happen to like.) Anyway, let me know what you think.