What is stressing your kids out? Here are three common sources of stress, plus practical tips parents can use to help kids cope with stress. These tips are from Sandra Blackard of the Language of Listening®.
“I believe the top three sources of stress for children of any age are external pressure to perform, too little self-directed time, and stressed-out parents,” says Blackard, who is an Austin-based author of the award-winning handbook SAY WHAT YOU SEE®.
She also says that what she hears from parents is that kids today react the same way to stress as we did in previous generations. They rebel, seek distractions, shut down, or worse (see Signs of Eating Disorders in Teens – From Perfectionism to Purging here on Quips and Tips for an example of the “worse”!).
“With ready access to computer games, smart phones, drugs and the internet, our kids’ stress just looks different and is a lot more public,” says Sandy. “Regardless of how it looks, kids’ need for understanding, supportive parents and self-directed activities to reduce the pressures of life hasn’t changed.”
Here, Blackard explains why self-directed time is so critical for children, and why life becomes stressful for them when they don’t have enough of it. She also describes several other ways to help your kids cope with stress.
Encourage Self-Directed Time
In their self-directed time, children are constantly setting challenges for themselves that they know they can master. Mastery allows children to tackle the next level of challenge with confidence. When you watch for this truth, you quickly see signs of progress you previously missed. Learning this about children helps parents relax and trust their children’s inner guidance, which in turn helps children trust it themselves.
Help Kids Trust Their Inner Guidance
This tip for helping kids cope with stress requires adults to listen in a new way. I teach parents to listen to what their children say and do like it matters, because it really does. Problem solving and pointing out strengths rather than judging, teaching or criticizing are the remaining steps in helping kids and teens create a healthy lifestyle. Opportunities show up all the time, even in little moments like when your teen turns and walks away after you ask him or her to take out the trash. Instead of judging and criticizing with, “Don’t walk away when I’m talking to you!” and reacting to the teen’s retort, “I need my shoes,” like it’s just an excuse to be insolent, you can start with a simple observation like, “You’re walking away.”
If you still feel resistance, you can say whatever is true at the moment like, “Seems like you don’t want to do this chore.” When you listen again, you will find out what the teen doesn’t like. Could be that it’s an interruption or simply a chore the teen hates. Whatever it is, a comment like, “Must be something we can to do about that,” will make possible a solution that works for you both.
Kids who are treated with respect act more respectful, which reduces everyone’s stress. Consciously applying these same methods to ourselves can help us de-stress even more. It’s not hard to imagine the difference it would make if we gave ourselves more self-directed time, listened to ourselves like we really mattered, pointed out our own strengths and trusted our inner guidance. What works for children also works for us.
Look Inward for the Definition of Success
Most of the families I work with are challenging the idea of measuring themselves against external standards and are instead starting to look inward for what success means to them. Well-being, balance and happiness are their new standards. Extending that to their children, parents are looking for more child-led alternatives like play-based early learning programs and variety in extra-curricular activities, rather than following the old formula of early formal academics or a single, life-long extra-curricular activity chosen by the parents to keep their children ahead of the competition. The self-directed nature of this new route reduces the potential for rebellion or shut-down later by reducing external pressure along the way.
Tune Into Your Child’s Goals
Many parents think they need to temper their expectations to keep from burdening their kids. What I recommend as a way to help kids cope with stress is to tune into your child’s own goals. When put in the lead, children naturally set the right level of challenge for growth. It’s as though they have an inner compass for success that tells them exactly what they need to do to master a challenge.
The best guidance we can give our kids is to help them find and follow their own paths. Living up to someone else’s expectations feels like pressure. Living out your own dreams feels like fulfillment.
If you have any thoughts on Sandra Blackard’s tips for helping kids cope with stress, please comment below!
For more tips on helping kids cope with stress, read How to Reduce Stress at Christmas for Kids.