Everyone has times of stress. Sometimes we are keenly aware of how it affects us and sometimes we are not. As many have experienced, even times of great joy can be stressful; for example: weddings, the birth of a child, even a new job. As many have experienced, stress can help strengthen and unite us; but it can also do the opposite depending on our perceptions and response.
Children have their own stresses which affect them just as severely as ours do us. And just like most good parents who often feels the stresses and struggles of their children, no matter how much you try to shelter your children from the significant stresses in your life, they will often feel, but not understand your more significant stresses. Depending upon the age and maturity of your child, they may not have the understanding and/or skills to deal with their own stresses let alone yours. Here are a few things which may help.
1. Understanding control: Help children to understand (to the level appropriate for the child) the difference between what they do and do not have control over. Too often children believe they are somehow to blame for your stresses. Sometimes it comes from the believe that somehow the world revolves around them and sometimes it is because of something you or others may have said; but which was misunderstood by your child. As much as is appropriate for the child, help them understand what is going on when you face significant stress and partner with them in solutions, i.e. hold family councils on home production and ways to save money.
2. Increase feelings of security and certainty: Both children and adults need the feelings of security, certainly, consistency, and predictability, especially in times of stress. As much as possible keep good routines in tact without doing more than you have ability to do. (While stretching yourself for greater capacity is a good thing when not overdone, you can...over do.) Have fun and play together, keep wholesome traditions alive, eat together at regular times. Maintain consistent routines. If you are religious, attend regular meetings with consistent members. Pray together. There is security in consistency.
3. Expectations: One of the fundamental sources of stress is inappropriate expectations for yourself and others.
Learn about appropriate child development.
4. Self-Efficacy: Self Efficacy is the believe you have the power or ability to do, accomplish, or overcome something. It is very different than self-esteem but usually leads to better self esteem. Help your children develop skills and talents appropriate to their interests and abilities. There are many amazing resources to help children build self-efficacy: sports programs, 4=H, crafts, scouting, books, etc. Help your children set and achieve goals. Remember the four key elements of: a. writing down a goal, b. writing down the reasonable and achievable steps, c. report on progress, and d. celebrate success.
Supplemental Material: The Costly Pursuit of Self-Esteem
5. Have fun and enjoy good humor: There are two types of humor, the kind that divides and belittles and the kind that unites. Always encourage the kind that brings your family and others closer. Always discourage the kind that puts downs or disparages other races, religions, nationalities, groups, or individuals. Good, fun, safe, humor releases stress. Laughter really is a great medicine.
6. Physiological: Significant stress almost always causes a physical change. Often, we must do something physical to relieve the stress we feel. Aerobic exercise such as; walking, swimming, and running can help. Slow deep breathing can also help break physical cycles of stress. One way to help young children learn deep breathing and have fun at the same time is through a large bubble blowing contest. You have to breath deeply and blow very slowly to create a big bubble.
7. Friends and Relationships: Help your children develop and maintain good friendships and lasting relationships. If you have to move, help them preserve old, and create new relationships.
For your child, there may be no relationship more important than their relationship with you and other family members. Spend time, listen, acknowledge, and help them understand their own emotions during these difficult times of struggles and/or stress.
8. Meditation: We frequently hear about the benefits of meditation. Usually this refers to deep thought at times accompanied by study and prayer. There is another type of meditation very useful for relieving stress. It is called Mindfulness Meditation. There are three essential components: a. Enjoy the activity, like it was new. b. Focus completely on the activity. c. Loose track of time.
This is unique to the individual and usually changes over time. For some, washing dishes, taking a bath, riding a dirt bike, fishing, playing with a friend or pet, or taking a walk may meet the required components. For me, gardening, reading, canoeing, and an interesting conversation, can help me create this type of relaxation. Children often meet the requirements of mindfulness meditation through play.
(Sorry, watching TV does not count, you must be an active participant)
9. Gratitude: Maintain and show an attitude of gratitude and teach your children to do the same. (see Standing for Something, 10 Neglected Virtues That Will Heal Our Hearts and Homes. Chapter 8, Gratitude: A Sign of Maturity. Gordon B. Hinckley)
Spending more time thinking about what you’ve got, is less stressful than spending a lot of time worrying about what you don’t.
10. Music: Using music for relaxation may not be as easy as you might think.
Have you ever driven down a highway at 65 or 75 mph then turned into a town where the speed limit abruptly changed to 25 mph? When I’m driving, the abrupt change is more irritating than relaxing until I can mentally and physically adjust to the slower speed. It’s the same with music. Music is individual; but there are some general rules. In order to help you relax it must be something physically relaxing that you enjoy. Many years ago as a children’s therapist I worked with a young man who told me he relaxed to music by a particular band. Instead of arguing with him I suggested we check it out and asked that he bring his music in to our next session. I had some very basic bio-feedback equipment that would measure his physiology and tell us if his body was relaxing or tensing. I hooked him up and turned on the music. This particular music is irritating and grating to me, so I left the room. After a while I returned and we looked at his measured physical results together. It was obvious to both of us that this music did not help him relax (nor anyone for that matter).
For people who enjoy it, slow baroque music (i.e. Pachelbel's Canon) is wonderfully and deeply relaxing; however, if I was especially stressed, to sit down and listen to slow baroque music would actually increase my anxiety instead of reduce it. It would be like driving on a freeway at 75 mph then immediately turning onto a road at 25. It’s better if I relax a little first. For example, by taking a walk, deep breathing, listening to semi relaxing music, which for me could include: folk, old country music, or some children’s songs. More relaxing music is compatible with deep slow breathing. More relaxing music is conducive to meditating, less relaxing music almost forces us to move.
11: Forgiveness and letting go: Carrying around grudges, bitterness, and anger is stressful and can take a lot of energy. When under stress (and when not) forgive quickly. You just don’t have the extra energy to carry around the additional burden. Many years ago while working with adults I taught a repeating workshop. During part of the workshop we talked about letting go. My partner would be with the group and I would come in late with a backpack. I would talk about how much pain I was in and how much my back hurt. Invariably someone would have the common sense to suggest I remove what was obviously a very heavy pack. At first I would ignore them; but after a while I would acknowledge their comments and concerns, and remove the pack. However; I would continue to carry this bulky and heavy back pack in my arms while opening it and one by one removing very large rocks, talking about each one. They all represented stressful events or relationships in my life. One by one, after talking about each for a while, I would allow the rock to land on the table with a thud.
I remember one woman picking up a large rock while I wasn’t looking, wrapping it in tissue, and putting it into her purse. There was something she wasn’t ready to let go of and now this rock represented that burden.
Now this is something I would always explain. Some situations and events are serious enough that they need to be reported and you need to take appropriate precautions. You can forgive and let go; but at the same time, love yourself enough to never allow yourself, your children, or anyone else for that matter, to be put in the same dangerous situation again. You can let go of the hate and burdens associated with what occurred and still report to the proper authorities. Perhaps this will lead to the person getting help that s/he needs; but more importantly your report and your refusal to allow it to happen to you again, may save you, your children, or someone else.
And for those who believe in God:
12. Faith: If you have a belief in God, actively help your children develop faith and let them see faith exercised in your own life. Help them build a foundation of faith through; a. love (Gal. 5:6), b. truth, c. works (James 2:26), and d. humility.
13. Prayer: Teach by word and example that we have a loving Father in Heaven who we can turn to in times of trials, and ease.
Measuring Religiousness of Parents of Children with Developmental Disabilities.
The Protective Effects of Religiosity on Maladjustment among Maltreated and Nonmaltreated Children
Stress Reduction and Management, for Children and Adults: A Training Outline. (with additional links)
Teen Depression: Signs, Symptoms, and How to Help
Sleep Hygiene: How to get a good night’s sleep.