2017-11-12 / Viewpoints

Chalk Talk

By Edward S. Graham, PhD
Superintendent Montrose Schools

While most of us hopefully remember childhood as a carefree time of life, the simple reality is that the world has changed. Shifting social norms, dynamic family structures, the ever evolving impact of technology, and yes, even school expectations, have resulted in an environment for children that is much more complicated and stressful than what previous generations probably experienced.

At school, we see childhood stress manifested in a variety of ways - sometimes healthy - sometimes not. Not surprisingly, children may not even understand that they are experiencing stress let alone have the capacity to deal with it in a healthy manner. Likewise, while parents try to guide and protect their children, they may not always know the best way to help. Here are a few ideas from an article published online by KidsHealth.org (Helping Kids Cope with Stress, published January, 2013) that parents and other caring adults might use to help children deal with stress:

• Notice out loud. Tell your child when you notice that something’s bothering him or her. If you can, name the feeling you think your child is experiencing. (“It seems like you’re still angry about what happened at the playground.”) This shouldn’t sound like an accusation, but a casual observation that lets them know you are interested in hearing about their concerns.

• Listen to your child. Ask your child to tell you what’s wrong. Listen attentively, calmly, patiently, and avoid the urge to judge, blame, or lecture. Let your child’s concerns and feelings be heard by asking questions. Take your time.

• Comment briefly on the feelings you think your child was experiencing. For example, you might say “That must have been upsetting,” “No wonder you felt angry,” or “That must have seemed unfair to you.” This shows that you understand what your child felt, why, and that you care.

• Put a label on it. Many younger kids do not yet have words for their feelings. If your child seems angry or frustrated, use those words to help him or her learn to identify the emotions by name. Putting feelings into words helps kids communicate and develop the ability to recognize their own emotional states, which will help them avoid reaching a boiling point where emotions come out through behaviors rather than words.

• Help your child think of things to do. If there’s a specific problem that’s causing stress, talk together about what to do. Encourage your child to think of a couple of ideas. You can start the brainstorming if necessary, but don’t do all the work. Your child’s active participation will build confidence.

• Listen and move on. Sometimes talking and listening and feeling understood is all that’s needed to help a child’s frustrations begin to melt away. Afterward, try changing the subject and moving on to something more positive and relaxing. Don’t give the problem more attention than it deserves.

• Limit stress where possible. If certain situations are causing stress, see if there are ways to change things. For instance, if too many after-school activities consistently cause homework stress, it might be necessary to limit activities to leave time and energy for homework.

• Just be there. Kids don’t always feel like talking about what’s bothering them, but let them know you’ll be ready when they are. Keep in mind that even when kids don’t want to talk, they usually don’t want parents to leave them alone. Just being there matters.

• Be patient. As a parent, it hurts to see your child unhappy or stressed; however, resist the urge to fix every problem. Rather, focus on helping your child gradually grow into a good problem-solver who knows how to roll with life’s ups and downs, express their feelings with words, calm down when needed, and bounce back to try again.

Childhood should be a time filled with terrific memories and positive learning experiences. Nonetheless, life can become stressful at times – even for kids. While we can’t solve all of life’s challenges for our children, we can help them learn to cope with stress in healthy and productive ways.

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