By Denise Holcomb
Removing The Stigma
We could never have imagined that our children would have to deal with the levels of stress that they encounter today, but they do.
The pandemic has caused higher stress levels in our children. Many older adults have expressed that they would not want to raise children during this pandemic because they would not know what to do, and they never experienced this type of stress as a child.
According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “anxiety, together with depression and isolation, contributed to more parents reporting mental health problems with their kids in 2020 compared to the year prior, and 31% more visits to the emergency room for mental health problems in adolescents.” The American Psychological Association states “for children, stress can manifest itself through changes in behavior. Common changes can include acting irritable or moody, withdrawing from activities that used to give them pleasure, routinely expressing worries, complaining more than usual about the school, crying, displaying surprising fearful reactions, clinging to a parent or teacher, sleeping too much or too little, or eating too much or too little.”
What Can Be Done?
Teaching children stress management skills can help. It can be challenging, fun, and rewarding. Here are helpful tips for younger children ages 3 years – 12 years old, and some that might help other age groups. Consider doing these things with your child; it may help reduce their stress level:
- Always start with an open heart, and always offer them an open door. Never let your child think you have a closed-door policy when it comes to what they are dealing with on a day-to-day basis.
- Plan days where you and your children share a meal at the table. Ask them about their day. Is anything bothering them?
- Be quick to listen, not talk. Listening opens the door to your child’s silent world. We have become comfortable in thinking they are okay once they arrive home, but that is not always true.
- Make a list. Talk with them about those things that are in their control and the things that are not. Have them also make a list. Make it fun! For example, for the boy who likes football, write on one side of a football: I Can’t Control, and on the other half, I Can Control. Next, have them write their answers on the ball. Examples: I cannot control – the weather. I can control – my behavior or actions.
- Make a plan together. Keep it fun and colorful. You will need a poster board and art supplies. On the poster you want the child to write what they will do when they are stressed. (You may need to explain stress to them in a child-like manner). Example: I can talk about it. I can play outside.
Teach them mindfulness. Mindfulness is about consciously being in the present: what you are doing and being involved with, what is going on around you. Example: Have your child sit quietly and comfortably on the floor and play their favorite song. (What may be comfortable to you, may not be comfortable to them).
- As they listen, have them pick out one instrument in the song they hear and focus on the one instrument as they hear the song playing.
- Ask them to reflect. How did it feel? What happened as they listened? What did they like or not like? You are teaching them what can be a lifelong skill, so have patience as they answer.
Positive Affirmations. Over the years, school systems have learned the importance of affirmations. Some schools have children quote daily affirmations at the start of their school day. For example, I am smart. I will always do my best. I am capable. Have your child write down their positive affirmations.
Stress can be hard to talk about. It is important that children feel they can trust you, and that they will not be punished for telling you what they have experienced, or how they feel, good or bad. You are important in your child’s life. The foundation that you lay for them now can impact them the rest of their lives.