The first month of school is almost over and many children are still stuck in the back-to-school blues that many parents don’t want to recognize because they don’t know what to do about it. It’s as though they believe kids ought to be happy and, if they aren’t, it is somehow the child’s fault or a parenting failure.
The fantasy that most children experience a happy, worry-free childhood is really just that—a fantasy. Life can be very tough for children and experiencing some degree of the blues or stress is normal and not necessarily a bad thing. The role of parents is not to ignore stress or attempt to shield their children from it, but to teach them coping skills.
Stress in some form or another is with us throughout life, and it is important to know how to face it and deal with it—especially in a world that is changing at break-neck speed requiring constant adjustment and new learning.
Children Face a Lot of Stressful Situations
Children have always had to deal with worries and concerns and these should never be brushed aside. Stress is a problem for children and begins earlier in life than ever before:
- Academic pressures start sooner.
- Sports have become more competitive at younger ages.
- The need to “fit in” and be accepted by peers is important at all ages.
- The freedom to roam has been curtailed in our society, and a child’s social life is now structured by the adults who must provide transportation and supervision.
- Reluctance to allow children to engage in unsupervised play has also limited the freedom for them to run, climb, explore, and engage in nature and outdoor exercise.
- Technology has plunged children into the constantly changing and addictive world of TVs, iPads, iPods, tablets, computer games, and the dreaded smartphones that will eventually dominate their lives.
Parents Can Help Dial-Down Childhood Anxiety
Youngsters experience a lot of physical and emotional problems if worries and fears are ignored:
- Tummy upsets
- Difficulty concentrating
- Behavioral problems
- Learning difficulties
It is important for parents to demystify the ills that accompany stress in a matter-of-fact way in order to help children understand their emotions and how they affect them physically. Harm can be reduced and used to advantage when children understand what it is and what its symptom are:
- It is okay to be anxious, angry, or sad.
- It is normal to feel butterflies in the tummy or a racing heart, or to have trouble falling asleep, and adults experience these symptoms, too.
Children need to hear the advantages of stress. Make sure they realize:
- It helps them work faster, motivates them to succeed, and give them an advantage over children who don’t care if they do well or not.
- Learning and succeeding requires a certain amount of struggling and failing, and it is an expected and necessary part of life.
- Emotions can be controlled, and children can express disappointment, unhappiness, and anger without throwing temper tantrums, brooding, or refusing to speak or cooperate.
Children Need to Learn How to Cope With Stress
- Remind children to use deep breathing, engaging with nature, listening to or playing music, and practicing mindfulness, gratitude, and exercise as tools of resilience when feeling stressed.
- When your child doesn’t make the team, achieve a high mark in a test, win the prize, or is unhappy about attending school, sympathize but don’t blame them or anyone else.
- Let them express their emotions and help them see how they could do things differently.
- Arrange more unstructured playtime for them.
- Set reasonable limits on their use of iPads, tablets, games, TVs, and smartphones so that they have time to use their coping skills.
- Don’t try to solve all their problems. Suggest what they might do, but leave it up to them.
- Examine your own reaction to stressful situations and make sure you are modeling behavior you want to see in your children.
Rather then shielding children from the back-to-school blues or trying to solve all their problems, help them understand the role stress plays in all our lives and give them the tools to cope with it.
Is your child showing worrisome signs of stress?
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