As parents, we work hard to assure that our homes are a place of happiness, peace and contentment. Unfortunately, there are times when life gets in the way and stress disrupts it all.
Teaching our children how to deal with the daily pressures and unexpected tensions of life can be challenging for any parent. I don't mean the normal hassles of life that happen like when we get stuck waiting forever at a doctor's office or when we forget the PTA meeting we were supposed to attend or to send our kid's lunch money to school.
I'm talking about the more unsettling events like the loss of a family member, divorce or unforeseen relocation demands. Stress for a child can come in many different colors and what is stressful for one of your kids may not prove to be so for another. While a new baby may be a happy event for one child it may shake the foundations of trust and safety for another.
The truth is, if we want our kids to be able to handle the really big stressors we have to begin early on teaching our youngest children how to deal with the smaller disruptions. Recognizing when an event is a "hassle", as opposed to an anxiety producing trauma, may take some time but is a critical step for every child.
So what can a parent do to help their kids to develop skills to be able to handle stressful situations?
Prepare your child by talking things through in advance. Let your child know of any upcoming changes, events or activities that may be stressful for your child. Children are far happier and feel more secure when they know what to expect. Share a strategy or two for how they might handle this upcoming event.
Discuss why a situation was problematic. If you forgot to send lunch money to school, talk with your child about what happened. If things did not go well at school, how might they handle things differently in the future. Oh, and don't forget to tell them that you are sorry that you forgot to send the money and share with them the stress that you felt for making this mistake.
Listen. Really try to "hear" what your children are telling you about current pressures, fears or anxiety. It is only by truly understanding what they are telling you that you will be able to appropriately respond and plan.
Validate. Don't deny or downplay their fears or anxiety. Rather, recognize your child for being able to put their concerns into words. Share with them that you too feel anxious or stressed out sometimes and that you are happy that they can talk to you.
Strategize and teach your children good problem solving skills. Kids who feel in control and who can break down their problems, from major to workable, will be more successful in dealing with future stressful situations.
Act it out. Ask your child to describe for you "the very worst thing" that could happen to them. Then role play different ways for them to handle this situation. Practice words they might use, identify who they could go to for help and recognize your child when they come up with good suggestions. In some cases, humor can be a wonderful aid. "Oh no, if I forget your lunch money again, will you starve or have to eat the lunch lady?" The idea is to be able to point out that their fears may be far greater than reality. But don't go so far as to tease your child or embarrass them for their fears.
Tell them you have confidence in them. And remind them that you will always be there for them. Applaud them when they successfully handle a problem and highlight the strategies they used to cope with their potential stressor.
Remind them of past successes. When faced with a truly difficult or unexpected situation, remind your child that they have battled their stressors before and been successful. Tell them that by using some of their strategies and with your help, they can make it through even the toughest or most stressful scenario.