Managing Your Child’s Stress
We would like to think of kids as carefree creatures whose main obsessions are puppy dogs and rainbows. And yet, as anyone whose tear-stained 6-year-old has run home fresh from a playground insult knows, a kid’s life has disappointments and worries that feel as all-consuming as any grown-up’s. “Any situation we don’t control can trigger anxiety and stress,” says Beth Block, a marriage and family therapist in Austin, Texas. And kids have plenty of things that they don’t control—mealtime, bedtime, exactly when to leave SeaWorld. The way to help your children cope with the slings and arrows of kid stress (and eventually teen and grown-up stress) is to restore some of that control. How? By teaching them simple self-soothing techniques that will help them to relax and regroup.
Here are six expert-recommended, kid-friendly ways for your child to shift out of meltdown mode, calm down after a tiff with a friend, or survive the college-application panic. (Big bonus: The techniques will work for you, too.)
The key to getting kids to use these de-stressers? Introduce them when things are cool, says Susan Kaiser Greenland, the creator of the Inner Kids Program, an internationally taught curriculum of meditation for children, and the author of The Mindful Child ($15, amazon.com). “If they learn how to use these tools when they’re already relaxed, they’ll be better able to pull them out and implement them effectively when they’re stressed,” she says. And that kind of power is sweet relief indeed.
De-Stress Technique: Meditation
Why it works: This very basic technique is based on a type of meditation called mindfulness. “It’s about focusing on the body’s physical sensations, as opposed to the mind’s runaway thoughts and feelings,” says Danny Dreyer, a mind-body educator in Asheville, North Carolina, and a coauthor of Chi Running ($16, amazon.com).
How to teach it: Explain it by asking your child to think of a snow globe. When you shake it, you can’t see clearly, which is what happens to us when our mind is flooded with thoughts like “My best friend hates me” or “I’ll never pass that test.” When we pause, the feelings settle (like the snow in the globe) and we can focus. Have her close her eyes and concentrate on one physical sensation. Talk her through it: “Think about your feet. Can you feel them both on the floor? What are your toes doing?” Coach young kids to stick with that sensation for 5 to 10 breaths; older kids can go for a minute or longer.
Times to try it: For anger or anxiety when her routine is disrupted; anytime she’s feeling overwhelmed.