Stress comes to all of us in many forms every day. These can run the gamut from the seemingly mundane to the obviously traumatic. As a parent, it is vital that you keep track of your child’s stress levels, and know when and how to step in to help him or her “de-stress” or decompress in a healthy and helpful manner.
Here are a seven ways to create a less stressful environment for your child.
1. Get Plenty Of Rest
All of us find it tough to cope when we’re tired, and children are no exception, even though they might “look” like they could go on for another hour or more. Keep a regular schedule as much as possible, to ensure fixed and adequate nap and bed times.
2. Be A Good Role Model
How you cope with your own stress is going to rub off on your child. Fretful parents make for fretful children, as these little ones are quick to pick up your vibes and unsaid tensions, even though they might not have a name for these emotions just yet. Find healthy ways to cope and manage your own stress levels.
3. Undivided Attention
Make time where you can give your child your complete presence for at least a few minutes every day. This is time that is just for him or her alone, to play, cuddle, read or craft together. Carving out such one-on-one time assures your child of your love and care for her, and gives her that window of time to talk to you if something is bothering her.
4. Talk About Your Feelings Often
Little children don’t have the vocabulary or self-awareness to understand what they are feeling or sensing most of the time. Give your child handles on his emotions by regularly naming your own emotions (Eg. “I’m so frustrated, I thought the shop was open today!” or “I’m so sad, mummy’s friend has cancer.”), and helping him name what he is feeling (you may find it useful to use the simple categories of glad, sad, mad and scared). Talk about positive feelings as well – and let him know that all feelings are okay, but not all behavior.
5. Prepare For Potentially Stressful Situations
If she’s going to the dentist for the first time, for example, or going for a playdate with new friends, do your best to prepare her heart beforehand. Don’t just tell her right before the situation occurs – talk about it days in advance, and help her to think about how she feels about it. Use simple language, and reassure her that you care about how she feels and that you are supporting her all the way. After the experience, spend some time to debrief about how it went, and to affirm her for trying something new/difficult.
6. Slow Down
Don’t rush from activity to activity – that’s a sure-fire way to stress out a child! Be sure not to pack your schedule too tightly, and try to plan in some chill-time between activities. In general, though, children don’t do well with more than one major activity a day.
7. Exercise Regularly
Make exercise a part of your daily or weekly routine. It’s great for not just physical health, but emotional well-being as well. Plus it’s a great way for your child to work off steam and release “happy” enorphins to colour his day with cheer.
By Dorothea Chow
This article was first published in The New Age Parents e-magazine