As parents, we are regularly told that our kids are stressed-out. Does that stress you out? It doesn’t have to.
In Five Simple Lessons to Help De-Stress your Stressed-Out Teen (And Yourself in the Process), Erin Anderssen reminds us all that stress is a part of life and learning to cope with it is another important part. In the article, Dalhousie University Psychiatrist, Stanley Kutcher highlights the fact that,
“While valuable antistigma campaigns have raised public awareness about mental illness, an unfortunate side effect is that they have diluted the meaning of clinical disorders such as anxiety,depression and trauma so that they are carelessly tossed into everyday conversations.”
Feelings of fear, nervousness, sadness, and worry about upcoming tests or poor grades are fairly normal and aren’t necessarily the same as clinical anxiety or depression. Kutcher continues,
“The first are common feelings, the latter are debilitating mental-health diagnoses. Teaching [kids] to recognize the difference and to use precise language to define how they are feeling helps normalize their own stress [and] helps identify when symptoms require more serious intervention.
While we can’t get rid of our kids’ tough feelings, we can teach them that feelings are normal. Everyone has feelings. As our children grow, they must learn to recognize feelings and learn how to move through them and beyond. Experiencing heavy emotions doesn’t mean that kids are shattered. Feeling nervous doesn’t mean that they are going to fail the test. Feelings exist to make us aware of situations and to highlight the need for a strategy or two to get us through.
Sometimes, the way parents respond to a child’s feelings can make it seem like the feelings really are a crisis. It can be exhausting, frustrating and tough to watch our kids feel sad, angry or worried. Planning how we will respond rather than react can make our job easier.
How will you respond to your child’s high-level emotion?
“Wow – looks like you are feeling really _____. What will you do to get that feeling out?”
“Sorry you feel that way. I know you can get through this.”
Some kids do better getting through a feeling on their own, others appreciate a hug or support from a parent. Music, writing, drawing or physical activity (running, exercise) can help as well.
When parents tell their kids that there is no need for them to feel nervous, or that there is something wrong with them for getting so stressed out, it is not helping.
What strategies will work for your child when learning to manage these emotions?
Planning strategies always works better “In the cool of the moment,” as we know that very little learning happens when things are “Hot.” Kelly McGonigal, author of The Upside of Stress suggests,
“Performing acts of charity can help to work off stress. For one thing, helping another person leaves less time for ruminating about your own problems.”
Denise Pope, co-author of Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids suggests,
“The most important tool for managing stress is sleep. And yet, high-performing students (and the adults raising them) brag about how late they stay up studying, how many tests they have and how busy they are. Nobody competes for the best night’s sleep but all the research suggests they should.”
All of these experts agree that it is critical for parents to teach their kids that feelings are normal – stress is part of life, and that the kids are capable of managing these feelings. The ability to discern between normal, every day uncomfortable feelings and those that are life-altering and clinically debilitating is critical for two reasons: to reinforce to kids that they have the resilience to survive the normal, and to highlight those kids who truly are sick so that they can get the help they need and once again be able to face the day-to-day stressors which affect us all.