It’s been a rough day.
You come home from a work, flop on the couch and exclaim, “Man, it’s been a shitty day.”
Everyone knows you’re stressed.
Our kids tell us they’re stressed in different ways.
Older kids and teens might complain about how effed up school is, or they slam the door and mutter “I’m fine” when we ask them how they are.
Our younger kids often don’t have the tools to communicate how they feel to us. They don’t always know words like “worried,” “annoyed” or “confused.”
These are words we use in an adult context. (And please, let’s not teach them before they have to know).
They do, however, show us in their own ways that they’re feeling stress and we have to start paying attention.
Diagnosing our kids’ stress
Kids run and jump and play.
How could they possibly be stressed out?
The Canadian Mental Health Association says one in five young Canadians suffer from rising levels of anxiety, stress, depression and risk of suicide. A staggering 3.2 million teens (12 to 19 years) are risk of depression.
Their stress can come from a multitude of angles. Sometimes, the stressor may seem so inconsequential to us adults.
Take my sister’s kid. He hates being late for anything; his mom is terminally to the wire. For everything. My nephew gets so stressed out that he wants to set all the clocks in the house ahead by 10 minutes and not tell his mom.
Or, it could be much more serious. Our kids get stressed out by:
- Parents going through divorce
- Parents going through divorce
- Change, like moving to a new community or school
- Too much homework
- Peer pressure and bullying
- Feeling unloved, like an outsider
- Struggling to learn at school
Too much stress, says the Psychology Foundation of Canada, can have significant effects on our kids. It can make their social interactions difficult, can interfere with their ability to focus and learn, and can negatively affect their physical, emotional and mental health.
A working paper from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child says early exposure to fear and chronic anxiety can have lifelong effects on brain architecture.
Based out of Harvard University, the council says stress overload can “significantly diminish a child’s ability to learn and engage in typical social interactions across the lifespan.”
That makes our jobs as adults all the more important in recognizing the symptoms of stress, identifying the stressors and guiding our kids through the quagmire.
We must don our detective hats, ask questions and get curious about why our children are behaving the way they are.
When my friend’s son gets worried about tests and finals, he becomes obnoxiously rude. He eventually blows up and then his parents find out what the issue is.
Now that we know the rudeness is the symptom, we can pay attention, watch for that behaviour and take care of the stress before the blowup comes.
Another friend’s daughter was practising for a solo in her school band. Her mom had no idea how terrified her daughter was, how much pressure she was feeling. She broke her clarinet.
Instead of replacing the clarinet, we needed to be curious about why she broke it.
What other negative behaviours can we watch for?
- Fear, shyness
- Temper tantrums
- Self-deprecating comments
- Physical illness
Once we identify the symptoms and stressors, we can build a safer environment for our children to grow and thrive.
Now, no, I don’t mean putting them in layers of bubble wrap and protecting them from everything negative in the world. I mean teaching them resiliency and resourcefulness and providing them with stress-management strategies.
And building and maintaining a healthy community for them.
The Five-Finger Approach
In my work with youth and asset-building practices, I know that “it takes a community to build a child” isn’t just a cliché.
The community has a responsibility in helping youth develop and grow. If we fail to provide that role, we build adults who are stressed out, who struggle with decision making and who lack confidence.
I often ask parents to trace one of their hands on a piece of paper. They must assign to each of the five fingers an adult who has a positive influence on their child.
It’s never surprising to me how many people don’t have five influencers, five champions, five adults who will go to the mat for their kids.
Why not? Because I also ask them to do the exercise for themselves. Most often, they don’t have five positive influences in their own lives.
Megan Gunnar, a psychologist at University of Minnesota, supports the adults’ role in raising strong, healthy children.
The most important ingredient in positive experiences for young children is the responsive adult or set of adults that are there in the child’s life, who are helping to let that brain be excited about learning and supporting that brain’s development.
She speaks at 2:29 of this Center for the Developing Child video:
Our children need strong, adult influences from parents, other family members, education providers and general members of the community.
When they know they’re not alone, their stress levels go down.
When they know they have a strong support network, they feel a sense of purpose.
They feel stronger, more confident.
This doesn’t change with age. We, as humans, are not designed to be in isolation and, if our children can have a supportive environment, they can learn to better manage their stress and deal with life’s challenges.
Because bubblewrap breaks, too.
I’m Janice Otremba, a professional speaker, facilitator and coach who specializes in stress management, health and wellness, personal growth and life balance. Let’s kick your butt into gear with simple, sound advice for beating burnout and powering up your happy. Book a free 15-minute consultation call with me to get started!
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net