All those aggravating things that can go wrong in a day, worries that interrupt your sleep and keep you up late at night—they all have a cumulative effect on your brain, especially its ability to remember and learn.
As science gains greater insight into the consequences of stress on the brain, we’re learning that chronic stress overloads the brain with powerful hormones, which over time can damage and kill brain cells.
You know that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, coupled with those rolling waves of anxiety… but do you know what stress feels like for your kids? Stress can be difficult enough for adults to deal with, so imagine the effects it can have on your little ones!
As much as we’d like to envision childhood as a purely innocent and happy time, the fact is that children are dealing with very grown-up emotions such as stress, anger and sadness at increasingly younger ages.
Pressure from peers, school and family all factor into a child’s emotional health. Children dealing with big life changes such as the death of a loved one, or a parent’s divorce, are even more at risk for developing high-stress levels.
Most of us moms have picked up pearls of wisdom along the road to motherhood; we know that life is unpredictable and that we’re unable to control most of what life throws at us. We can’t control stressful situations, but we can change the way we respond to the situation at hand. That is why the key to mental and emotional health is learning how to cope with stress and other strong emotions, rather than completely avoiding them.
This holds true for children, too. Coping skills are like karate for the mind; they can help your children protect themselves against the destructive behavior that comes along with high-stress levels such as substance abuse, bullying, fighting and poor grades.
Check out these 5 tried-and-true stress coping skills that can help your child karate-chop stress:
1. Tackle Time – Many kids (and adults too!) choose to manage problems by ignoring them, but this often allows a small problem to snowball into a larger one. Brainstorm a possible solution with your child; then break the path to that solution into small, manageable steps.
2. Selective Avoidance – Teach your child to recognize and avoid situations and people who foster stressful situations. Certain people, places and situations can intensify stressful emotions. Learning to recognize and avoid these catalysts can help prevent negative emotions before they even start.
3. The Bright Side – Teach your child to seek out opportunity in any situation. Did Johnny get cut from the football team? Can he use what would have been practice time to work out on his own? Was there another club or sport he had been interested in trying out? Remember the old adage: when one door closes, another one opens.
4. Handle The Heat – Despite our best efforts, stress and anger have a way of just exploding. It’s in the heat of that moment that we often do or say things we regret. Teach your child to recognize the signs that a situation is escalating and to remove him or herself from that situation. Conversations can be continued after a few deep breaths.
5. Foster Independence – We can’t stress this enough: children need to encounter negative situations on their own in order to learn how to deal with them. Don’t automatically solve your child’s problems for them. Allowing your child to work through problems by themselves builds confidence and helps to create a strong repertoire of coping skills that they’ll use well into adulthood.
Moms—what do you think? Are kids under more stress today than in generations past?