Saturday, January 5, 2013

Relieving Childhood Stress

Bette J. Freedson

"Aaaah, sweet childhood!" Do you become wistful reflecting on your past? With the pressures of parenting and earning a living, it is easy to forget that growing up is not stress-free.

Children have stress, but typically do not have the awareness or skill for understanding and expressing problems. However, with three simple steps, parents can become "plugged in" to sweet relief for childhood stress.

Step 1. Know sources of stress.

Step 2. Recognize stress signals.

Step 3. Use stress-reducing strategies

Stress arises from personal, social, domestic, and/or psychological sources. The intensity and amount of childhood stress depends on age, development, temperament, and environment. While baby’s stress comes from needing comfort, stimulation, food, or diaper change, teenage stress comes from school, home and peer pressures. Plugging into your child’s world helps identify sources of stress.

Because kids typically act out stress, signs often show up in behaviors. Notice your child’s actions. Is the child pushing limits more than is normal for his age? Is behavior chronically oppositional or overly compliant? Is he physically aggressive with other kids or adults? Are there ongoing changes in sleeping, eating, playing, or relating patterns? Does she appear overly tense? Listening to play themes will offer clues to stress, and insight into possible distress. Keep your ears perked and your eyes peeled. Evaluate duration and intensity of events and your child’s response to them.

But worry minimally. Some stress is normal, and can be relieved when handled effectively.


Kids might not initiate, but you can. Try a discussion opener:
“Sometimes children feel___________(sad, mad, bad, etc) about_____(fill in the circumstance)_______. I wonder if you might be feeling that way?”
If the child engages, you can probe a little. If he resists sharing, don’t push. Try again later.

Show interest 
Ask about her day, school, teachers, friends, activities, feelings etc. Try questions like this:
“Can you tell me something that made you glad (mad or sad) today?”

Give attention
Naughty behavior will get attention but creates stress for all. Try planned ignoring for negative behaviors (if safe), and offer attention for behaviors you want to establish. Positive attention for positive behavior helps reduce children’s stress.

Be consistent
Kids need stability. Even if your own life has stress, try to keep your parenting as predictable and consistent as possible.

Use a no-blame/no-shame policy
Guilt and shame creates stress for kids. Deal with problems without blaming children. Gently help kids to see their part in a problem. When you take realistic responsibility for your own actions, your child’s stress will be relieved, and their self-esteem will grow.

Teach replacement behaviors
When a situation is stressful, discuss how your child might handle this now, or a similar problem in the future. Offer suggestions, and use a no shame approach.

Help your child understand life
Kids can misunderstand what adults take for granted. Explain how things work with a no blame approach.

Use stillness and meditation
Children’s stress can be alleviated by stillness. This does not mean forcing them to be quiet. Try music, reading, and a gentle relaxation exercise like this:
“Imagine you are surrounded by beautiful butterflies. Picture the butterflies flying your troubles out of your mind. Then imagine the butterflies come back with happy thoughts.”
Use variations, and let your child tell you about what flew away.

Model effective coping
Stress is contagious. What you do when you are stressed will model your coping techniques. Deal with your own stress. Try relaxation, meditation, exercise, good nutrition, or professional help. The healthier parents are, the more sweet the stress relief for the kids.
Bette J. Freedson, LICSW, LCSW, CGP is a clinical social worker and a certified group psychotherapist who is dedicated to helping clients tackle life using simple, sound and effective strategies. As a Stress Expert, author and speaker, Bette makes overcoming life’s challenges easy with simple and accessible tools. Throughout her career Bette has worked with hundreds of children, parents, adults, couples, and groups to help them relieve the stress that interferes with success in life. By using her ideas and solutions, Bette's patients and pupils are able to quickly develop the skills to become directors of their own destinies.

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