Stress Management for Children (and parents!)

Stress Management for Children

Emma from 95 Acres of Sky is with us today sharing some helpful tips for parents on how we can help our children through some of life’s toughest moments (meltdowns).

Life can be tricky sometimes can’t it?  A friend treats you badly, you aren’t picked to participate in a really great project, a dreamed of outcome doesn’t come to fruition and the future looks pretty bleak.  Add to this feeling powerless, buffeted by the winds of life and it’s a recipe for a very bad day.

Oh, and of course you’re only six years old.

It’s amazing how the problems of a child mimic the difficulties we have ourselves as adults isn’t it?  Yet the worries and anxieties of children are often dismissed or overlooked as bad behavior or tantrums.  The feelings of children, though, are no less powerful than our own, even more so if you consider the lack of over view and perspective, something many of us only just begin to grasp as fully mature adults.

Stress is part of the human condition but it is important to recognize, and support, our children when they are going through stressful times.  The more tools we can have in our parenting toolbox, the more likely we are to be able to navigate the choppy waters of childhood and adolescence with some grace and sanity remaining.

For this first post on the subject of childhood stress I thought I’d head straight for the heart and look at how to deal with a meltdown.  This is often the moment when a child’s anxiety or stress becomes extremely visible but, like an iceberg, it is really only the visible tip.

Stress Management for Children

 My eldest son follows me in his temperament and has taught me a great deal about how to (and how not to) handle a meltdown.  So if you find yourself with a child who is unable to cope, here are some ideas to help you and them through it.

  • Stay calm.  It sounds easy right?  But really it is the toughest thing to do.  It is crucial, though, that when a child is melting down that we don’t give in to the temptation to join them.  Be a strong foundation for your child and try to view their behavior with as much compassion as you can.  Be near by, don’t allow them to hurt you or themselves, but let the storm run it’s course and be ready to catch them when it burns out.For you that might mean sitting nearby and only interjecting with gentle comments such as ‘you seem pretty angry right now’ or ‘it’s okay, I’m here’ or it might mean withdrawing to the next room and giving your child the privacy they need to release their feelings.  The main thing is to be a calm presence ready to hold and forgive when it’s over and the recovery time begins.
  • Rescue your child.  When strong emotions overtake us we feel extremely vulnerable and exposed afterwards.  An outburst or melt down is an obvious sign but there will always be more to it.  With a younger child this could be tiredness or a change of routine, an older child might be reacting to more complex emotions and relationships.  Right after an outburst is not necessarily the time to discuss it, allow some recovery time. I adore the healing power of Rescue Remedy, a tincture that works on healing the emotions and has been blended to work in times of shock or grief.  It is now available in handy sprays and pastilles, all of which work beautifully in an emergency.  I like to add the drops to a glass of water that can be sipped at when I’m having ‘one of those days’.  Both of my son’s appreciate the ritual of providing them with ‘medicine’ when they’ve had a physical or emotional bruising.
  • TLC.  It can help to treat a meltdown in the same way that one might treat a bout of illness or a fever, a bit of extra care and attention can often be the best medicine.  I think a loving parent can usually tell the difference between a child who is emotionally exhausted and one who is simply ‘acting out’, use your judgment but don’t be afraid to offer support and comfort to a child who is having a tough time.Stress Management for Children
  • Breathe.  For both parent and child there is nothing more important than taking deep breathes in a stressful moment.  I will talk more deeply about this in the future (it is a topic all on it’s own!) but a quick ‘rescue’ technique is to ask your child to ‘blow away’ the thing that is upsetting them with big puffing out breaths.   The deeper and slower the breath, the more the nervous system will begin to calm.  This might help at the beginning of a stress induced outburst or it might be a part of the recovery period, but learning to breathe calmly is an important skill.
  • Treat your child with compassion.  I’m not saying we should ‘play up’ to poor behavior, but it is our job as a parent to look beyond the immediate and try to see the underlying cause of behavior.  Whatever changes you may decide to make it is worth waiting a day to share them with your child.  The most important thing you can do is just be a supportive presence; extra hugs and cuddles, a story cuddled up together on the sofa.  Let them know that you still approve of them and that it is okay to have strong feelings.  Listen if they are ready to talk, be patient if they are not.

If we can learn to see a meltdown as a cry for help rather than simply ‘bad’ behavior, I think we can learn to manage things very differently.  The way we handle these very intense situations can be the foundation for our child’s feelings about themselves in lots of different ways.  The more we can model compassion and forgiveness, the more they are likely to find those things in their own hearts.