Being a kid these days is intense. Here's how to help your child cope with the pressure.
You know how awful stress makes you feel…but seeing stress on your child’s face or hearing it in his or her voice? That feels even worse!
You recognize these feelings oh so well — overwhelm, anxiety, exhaustion, restlessness, irritability, and a mind racing with less-than-helpful thoughts. It doesn’t matter how big, small, or "real" YOU think the threat is, to your child, some challenges of childhood (and young adulthood) seem larger or stronger than he or she can handle.
As a result, sometimes our kids feel out of control and downright hopeless.
And underneath all that anxiety is the universal human go-to negative thought — not feeling like "enough." (Sound familiar?)
The school year certainly dishes out plenty of opportunities for kids, no matter how young or old, to worry about measuring up, fitting in, keeping up, and whether or not they're succeeding. Everyday is a challenge to their sense of personal control and self-confidence.
So, how can you help your child feel stronger when the going just feels too tough?
1. Calm yourself down first
Thanks to mirror neurons, humans have an amazing ability to "read" and mirror each other’s emotions. So, "place your own oxygen mask" first before helping your child. Role model self-care. Calm yourself, get clear, and radiate a grounded, safe presence.
2. Help him notice the sensations in his body
You and your child, no matter how young or old, can learn to better recognize the early signs and symptoms of distress, giving you power to make adjustments on the fly and take back control.
Ask him questions about what he notices physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually (i.e. connection to purpose/others) when the stress starts to mount. Ask him what he notices during your stressful moments and share your own observation.
Notice what calms (not numbs) those feelings. Building awareness is the pre-requisite to developing self-regulation.
3. Teach her to breathe her way through anxiety
Slow, intentional breathing is one of the fastest ways to calm the brain and body. It restores blood flow to the frontal lobe and making it much easier to get strong and creative. This teaches your child that she has more control than she feels and creates time to choose responses.
Make it fun! Practice, practice, practice!
4. Let him know his feelings are normal
Say, "I hear you are really distressed, what do you think would be helpful?" Do not jump in to fix it!
And in your own unease, do not dismiss his worries. Ask him how he’s handled something like this before and what worked best for him? Get curious, ask "what if?" questions — not ones that solve, but ones that get your child curious about how things work and what makes him emotionally and mentally strong.
5. Help her own her power
Maybe she can't control the entire situation at hand, but she definitely can control her own response to it! Talk her through her options. Usually just knowing she has choices (from the extreme and ridiculous, to the calm and rational) will help her feel better.
Most of all, empathize and truly listen.
Kids feel more resilient and capable when they know mom and dad have their back. The support you give your kids now helps set them up for emotional success later in adulthood.
And imagine the upside of a world made up of adults who learned effective stress management skills as kids!
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