It is easy to get wrapped up in our own stress, and not really notice that our children are trying to deal with stress as well. If you pick up clues that your children are experiencing anxiety, however, you can help them manage their stress before it grows.
Actively listen to your children. One of the most important things we can do for our kids is just to really listen to them. When they have little things to share, whether happy or sad, give them your full attention. Give them time to say what they need to, without interrupting, and ask active questions about how they felt about whatever they are describing.
If you start active listening early in your children’s lives, they will continue to see open communication as an automatic part of your relationship. Only half listening, with occasional an “uh huh” only encourages them to withdraw, or try unhealthy habits for stress relief.
Active listening involves giving feedback, to clarify understanding. Comments like, “sounds like that made you pretty upset,” or questions, “did that hurt your feelings?” help you understand what emotions your child may not know how to express. Doing this at happy times as well…”wow, I bet that made you feel great”…makes discussing stressful situations feel more natural.
If something seems wrong, ask. If children are going through a rough patch at school or with other kids, they may not want to bring the subject up. By being proactive you show you care, and even if they don’t want to talk right away, they will feel the door is open to talk when they are ready.
Give them time to just be kids. Clubs, piano lessons, team sports, and other activities outside of school are a great way for your child to develop confidence and social skills. But too many activities do far more than make you an overworked chauffeur. A day packed with too much to do, without some simple down time, can load a lot of extra stress on your child.
You don’t have to wait until your kids get frazzled to help them ease up on an over booked agenda. Talk to them about which activities are most important to them, and drop the ones that don’t make the cut.
Let your kids know you love them as they are, not for what they may become. One of my favorite scenes from the movie Spanglish, occurs when the suburban mom brings home new clothes for her daughter that are a size too small, to encourage the girl to lose weight. Flashback from my childhood, but not all that unique.
We all want the best for our kids, but thinking that the best means some goal we want them to hit, or some game we want them to win, can be one of the biggest causes of stress in our children’s lives. Most children want deeply to please their parents, and sadly many reach adulthood feeling they have let their parents down.
Let them try out their own dreams, not yours. If you always dreamed of being on stage, or a professional athlete, that doesn’t mean your children are your second chance. If they enjoy those activities, fine. Support them and cheer them on. But don’t envision an NFL jersey while they are still toddlers. Piling your own dreams on your kids just piles on more stress.
Don’t buy them everything they want. It may seem like an easy way to make kids feel better, but in the long run children will experience more stress if they come to expect the world on a plate, and it doesn’t happen. If you help them understand money and how to make smart choices, you give them a sense of control, and responsibility.
Praise them for the effort they put in. In her excellent book Mindset, author Dr. Carol S. Dweck describes how children who are praised as being super smart or talented encounter far more stress than children praised for hard work. The first time the smart kids do something less than perfectly, they feel they have failed, and often slip back in performance. The kids who are praised for trying, however, just kept trying even if they had a setback, and felt very little stress about not being the best. They knew they would be better the next time.
Find a de-stress exercise you can share. Taking walks with your children, doing yoga together, or just running around in the backyard can lessen stress for both you and your kids. They don’t have to know you are working off stress hormones, they just feel better after having some fun.
Keep your own stress to yourself. Lastly, children are not therapists. You don’t have to hide that you had a rough day, but you don’t need to go into details either. Whatever cause you have to be unhappy, dumping it on your children makes them feel somehow to blame, and burdens them with stresses they should never have.
Just being there for your children when they need you is often enough to help them deal with the stress they feel. Knowing they are safe and loved goes a long way.
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Read more at:
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. (2007). Available in book, ebook, and audio.