Don’t let stress get to your kids
Stress, that horrible 6-letter word, is no longer the prerogative of adults. Studies by the APA (American Psychological Association – see apa.org) show that 8-10% percent of American kids are seriously troubled by stress and the symptoms associated with it. In fact, kids are now suffering from stress as early as the age of 3 years, a shocking reality that is sadly going mostly undetected by parents. Kids face enormous pressure to be at the top, whether it be their SAT scores, in the ball field, while playing video games or even a friendly game of hoops. Similar pressure is faced when it comes to appearance and popularity, making and sustaining friendships. This competitiveness is magnified because of the rampant use of social media, where information is transmitted instantaneously and kids compete for the number of followers they have. The Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) is a big stressor !
Parents may sometimes be unaware when their kids (teens, tweens or younger) are experiencing high stress levels. Kids may constantly complain of “feeling sick”, or may be irritable or moody, suffer from a lack of energy, feel they are out of control, develop headaches, lose sleep or sleep too much, eat too little or eat too much or suffer from some of the other eating disorders we keep hearing about. Not only are these causes for worry today, but also these unresolved issues might have graver implications for your kids’ mental and physical health going forward.
So how can you get your kids to reduce their stress from this endless competitive cycle ? Here are a few tips we picked up that parents and gurus swear by :
- Get your kids to sleep at the right time, and to get a good 8 hours of sleep. Things always look better in the morning ! Dissuade the use of screens at bedtime. There is a lot of truth in the old adage : early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy wealthy and wise. Establish the rules, communicate them clearly, and enforce them consistently.
- Encourage your kids to spend time outdoors. Whether it be taking a walk, going fishing, shooting hoops or gardening, this basic physical exercise combined with communing with nature both distracts and heightens positivity. There is something about a sunny day that cheers everyone up.
- Promote exercise : Physical exercise generates endorphins that in turn trigger a positive feeling in the body. Regular exercise has been proven to reduce stress, ward of anxiety and feelings of depression, boost self esteem and improve sleep. If your kids love sports, get them to join a club or kick a ball around the neighbouring playground with friends. Our website, versatilekids.com, lists many sports activities for kids in your area.
- Choose an activity that your kids seem to have an aptitude for, and encourage them to explore that further. If necessary, find someone who can teach that activity close to your home. Kids express their creativity in many different ways, and the sheer joy of creating / doing something and being good at it, gives them the confidence to handle other activities where they still may not shine. Unsure of what your kid would like to do ? Go through the service providers for your area listed on our website versatilekids.com, and I am sure you will find some activity that your kid would love.
- A recognised technique is to self guide and motivate, by using positive phrases like “I can do this” “Yes, I can”, “Stay calm”, “Breathe slowly”, Take a deep breath” etc. Tell your kids to say this under their breath as if talking to themselves whenever they feel overwhelmed by a task.
- Learn relaxation and breathing techniques through yoga. Yoga is not just an exercise form. It teaches discipline. It calms one down. The great part of yoga is that it can be done alone or with a group of friends or family and is also a great bonding opportunity. Here is a simple yoga technique to relax : Inhale deeply through your nose to the count of eight. Then with lips puckered, exhale very slowly through your mouth to the count of 15 or for as long as you can. Concentrate on the long sighing sound and feel the tension dissolve. Repeat 10 times. (That’s actually very similar to what noted educational psychologist and parenting expert Dr. Michele Borba recommends. She says “Teach young children to blow their worries away by pretending to blow up a balloon in their tummy as you slowly count to three and then let it out with an exaggerated “ahhh” sound like they use at the doctors office. Place your child’s hands on his stomach for him to feel his breaths. Too often kids try to take quick, fast breaths from their chest instead of their stomach—it doesn’t work! Say, “Taking a slow deep breath is an easy way to reduce your stress and let your worries out.” Kids can also practice taking slow, deep breaths using a pinwheel or bubble blower until they get the right “feel.” Young kids like to pretend that the bubbles are their worries blowing away.” For the entire article, look up http://micheleborba.com/michele-borba-blog-kid-stress-busters-i-shared-on-today-show-945am/)
- Singing is known to relieve anxiety and contribute to quality of life. Group singing, for those who have ever participated, is the most exhilaritive and transformational experience. Its not surprising that group singing is on the rise in America. According to a TIME magazine article http://ideas.time.com/2013/08/16/singing-changes-your-brain/ , researchers are beginning to discover that singing is like an infusion of the perfect tranquilizer, the kind that both soothes ones nerves and elevates ones spirits. And it turns out you don’t even have to be a good singer to reap the rewards. According to a 2005 study, group singing “can produce satisfying and therapeutic sensations even when the sound produced by the vocal instrument is of mediocre quality.”
- Ensure regular planned family time. This could be camping trips or just a family barbecue or sing along. The idea is to make your kids feel that this is time that you have taken out just for them, because they are important to you. Such moments provide an opportunity for kids to open up in case something is bothering them, because some stresors may require full family support to help a child cope.
- Teach your kids about love, optimism and forgiving. They should undertand that we live in an imperfect world, that people will make mistakes, and that getting back at someone is not the best counter to a situation. Get them to believe that mostly everyone is doing the best they can / being the best they can. And show them that you love them, no matter what. In the end, love conquers all.