“I’m so stressed!” I hear this complaint all the time, not just from adults but from our kids. Growing up is hard work but it shouldn’t be this stressful; stress is highly toxic and a contributing factor to many common health problems.
Stress stunts your creativity and makes all those things that children should be enjoying – sports, learning, developing into great human beings – a chore. Children struggle to cope with high levels of stress, and most adults aren’t so good at it either. We let stress negatively impact our lives and relationships, but with a little creativity, understanding and patience we can all live with less stress.
Being aware of your own stress is super important. Children have a very hard time seeing past themselves but they are incredibly observant, which can result in children picking up the stress of others and internalizing it. Furthermore, if they don’t understand the source of the stress, they often blame themselves. I have seen this in many children and it’s also something I remember doing frequently as a child. You see this often when families separate and the children blame themselves entirely.
Being kids gives children enough to worry about so they don’t need every detail about adult stress, but it’s important to have an open line of communication. It’s key to make sure children feel loved no matter how stressed you are, and admitting you are stressed is equally important. There is nothing wrong with saying you need some personal time to relax once in a while, especially during times of transition and challenge.
Just as there is a lot of external stress out there for parents to be perfect, to buy the latest toys, and to volunteer for every activity, there is lots of stress for kids to participate, make the grade and be successful at everything they do. Both parents and children run themselves ragged, adding a huge amount of stress for everyone involved.
The best way to limit stress is to decide what’s actually important to you and your family, and to learn to say no to the rest. Is it worth it to work overtime and run yourself ragged so you can afford more toys for your kids (or yourself)? Would you be happier if you were home for a family dinner and had the energy to play a game in the evening? Do your children actually enjoy all the extracurricular activities they’re signed up for?
Determine what is important for your family and say no to everything else. You will most likely be pressured about the activities cut; friends, co-workers and other family members might try and make you feel guilty, but stand your ground and have a firm idea in mind of what is important and figure out which activities create more stress in your life – just say no!
Develop Stress-Busting Strategies.
ARTiculation: Sometimes children, especially young ones, have a hard time putting their stress into words. Asking about it can be frustrating because it might seem like they’re stone-walling you. Sometimes they aren’t ready to talk about their stress, some times they just don’t know how to put it into words. If words won’t work, try art – illustrate your stress together. Pull out a piece of poster paper and draw on it together or individually work on your own “stress-busting art work.” Explain yours while asking your child about theirs. You can do this by casually asking about their choice of shapes and colors or what their drawing means to them. This works much better as a joint activity instead of just telling them to “go draw a picture of what is stressing you out.”
Active Listening: Sometimes children just need to feel like they are being heard. They don’t want advice, they do not want you to try and fix the problem, they only want to know you are listening to them.
When we were kids, my mom’s strategy with my sister (Mom never had a problem getting me to talk) was to go into her room and sit on the edge of her bed. My sister’s way of dealing with stress was to lock herself away and shut off. My mom would sit there and say she was there to listen whenever my sister was ready to talk…sometimes it took a good long while, but she always did.
That might not work for everyone, but giving your full attention is key. Whenever I was stressed and wanted to talk I would say “I want to go for a walk.” A walk allowed me to say as much or as little as I wanted, sort out my feelings, not have to make eye contact, and still feel like I was being listened to. The key is really figuring out how your child communicates best when they are stressed and being able to really listen.
Help your child develop their own coping strategies. Stress is unfortunately a part of life, so it’s essential to know how to manage stress instead of trying to eliminate or avoid it. This may take some experimenting, since everyone is different. Some children need alone time while others find silence more stressful. Some like to work off stress by exercising or playing a sport, others may prefer to draw, write poetry, cook, or walk in nature. Don’t force them into an activity you think is relaxing, help them discover what relaxes them. Take cues from their interests and hobbies; doing what they love is a sure way to relax and let the stress slip away.
Toxic stress doesn’t have to be a large part of your life. I hope some of these tips and ideas help you dissolve some of the stress in your family. How do you combat stress? Please share below!