April is Stress Awareness Month and your kids need your help. Oh yes, kids experience stress and what makes their situation worse than an adult's is that they don't always know how to recognize the stress or manage it. It's not their fault because their brains haven't necessarily developed to do this. A two year old temper tantrum is a form of stress because she can't necessarily articulate that she's tired and hungry. A teenager may get silent and gloomy because he doesn't know how to manage the stress of peer pressure. Your son may slam a door because he's frustrated and stressed at constantly striking out at baseball, or your daughter may get grouchy because of the stress of verbal bullying about the clothes she wears. Whatever the cause, stress will show up in children's behaviors if they don't know how to manage it.
So what's a parent to do? Three steps come to mind:
First, be a keen observer of your child's moods and behavior patterns. Don't count on teachers or coaches to always tell you when "something's up" with your kid. Try to pick up on the cues yourself by observing for shifts in their behavior. The older some kids get, the better they mask their feelings thus minimizing the opportunity for parents to help them in expressing or managing them.
Second, be a patient guiding force. Help your child to articulate what is going on in their head. Ask questions and impart your loving guidance to help them find a solution. Whenever possible invoke your child's opinion in the problem solving. This helps them to start training the brain for solutions.
Third, be a loving disciplinarian. If your child's stressful outbursts are inappropriate, by all means render consequences as you need to, but consider this... Many parents give their children a punishment or a "time out" in which they can think about their behaviors. Often times, kids just stew during this period of time and end up harboring resentment toward the situation as well as the parent who punished them. What if these kids had a "time IN" instead? A brilliant lady named Linda Lantieri suggests just this in her book Building Emotinal Intelligence.
Ms. Lantieri suggests that a small area of your home can be turned in to a special oasis of calm that can actually helps kids to manage their stress. They don't have to be sent there as a punishment for negative behavior, but can go there to calm down before or after negative behavior sets in. What a brilliant idea! What's even better is that you can ask your child to help you set the area up in a way that they find it inviting. Avoid electronics like TV or handheld game but do consider calming music, stuffed animals (for younger kids), books, puzzles, or even a candle (safety first!). It can be made comfortable with soft seating and inviting pillows. Parents may find they want their own "Time In".
Give it a try and share your thoughts in our comments section!