Stress and How Kids Handle It
● By Hood Magazine
Photo courtesy of Shauna Graham
By Kristine Weires, LCSW-PIP, Clinical Social Worker
Stress is common in our lives, yet we often don’t acknowledge that our children feel stress, too. Instead, we focus on behavior and minimize the underlying emotions. As adults, we are overly preoccupied with our own feelings and usually categorize negative behavior from our children as being naughty or defiant. Well, this shouldn’t be the case. When a child acts out, he/she is sending a message of stress. They are not mature enough to manage stress on their own and need guidance through it. But, unfortunately, what they usually get is a time out, lecture, or punishment.
More modern parenting strategies include stress management as a key component. Helping a child understand what stress is and how to deal with it is a life skill that often gets overlooked. Consider these points:
- A child’s primary learning source for stress management is the parent. Recognize that you are role modeling stress management every day. How do you manage your stress? Do you utilize calming techniques or throw things, scream, and basically have a tantrum? Improve your own stress management techniques, and model them for your child.
- Simple deep breathing exercises can be a tremendous help. Teach your child to inhale for the count of four, hold for a count of four, and exhale for a count of eight. Utilize this when your child is upset or appears stressed. By teaching this technique now, it can become automatic later. (Model this, too!)
- Stop focusing on the behavior! Remember, most behavior is a sign there are emotional issues at play. Focus on helping your child figure out what they are feeling and why. Diagnose stress and guide them to feeling better. A time out may be needed and a useful part of stress management, but make sure and process the behavior by defining the underlying feelings afterwards.
- Become a detective. If a pattern emerges of a specific time of the day or specific cause of stress, try and lessen that stress. For example, if your child has an attitude every day before getting on the bus, don’t assume he is doing it on purpose to ruin your day. Investigate what’s going on emotionally every morning that is causing the reaction. Is he getting enough sleep? Having trouble sleeping? Experiencing bullying issues on the bus or at school?
There are causes for behavior. Children don’t get up in the morning with a goal in mind to be naughty that day. Behavior is caused by unmanaged stress. The sooner we as parents understand this, the sooner we can start to help.