Coping strategies for you & your families.
Increased levels of stress are evident in today’s society. Not only does stress affect us individually, but it affects our families as well. A certain amount of stress is healthy: It helps motivate us to accomplish goals and tasks. However, when our stress level goes beyond the norm, just being a parent with the associated responsibilities can become overwhelming.
Our children observe closely how we manage stress. When they watch us respond to it in unhealthy ways, they will be more likely to respond in unhealthy ways to their own stress as teens and adults. The good news is that there are measures we can take individually and as a family to manage stress in our lives.
Take Care of You
If you are not managing your own stress, your children will sense this and begin to worry or become stressed themselves. It is ok, sometimes, to acknowledge that you are experiencing some difficult times — whether with employment, health or finances. Reassure your family that you are working hard to find resources and solutions to manage the problem. It’s also important to use discretion on how much information you share, taking into consideration the developmental age of your kids.
How can you take care of you? Make sure you are minding your own health, including your emotional health. If you are struggling with depression, anxiety or addictions to food, tobacco, alcohol, prescription drugs or other substances, talk to your healthcare provider. To begin the journey to a healthier you, tackle one behavioral change at a time. Your kids are more likely to engage in the types of healthy behaviors they observe.
Talk It Out
Establish regular conversation times with your children, giving them the opportunity to share or express their feelings. Mealtime is a great place to start. An excellent question to ask your kids is, “What is your favorite or least favorite part of the day?” This will help you gain more specific insight into their day. You may be surprised to discover what they view as the source of stress in their lives.
When traumatic events occur in the community, nationally or globally, it’s important to monitor what children watch or hear. These stressful events can challenge a child’s sense of physical and emotional safety and security. Reassure your kids about their safety and well-being. Emphasize positive ways the nation, community and you are dealing with the event.
Organize Your Home
Creating a healthy environment can influence your behavior and alleviate stress. If you are constantly looking for objects, documents or the leash to walk the dog, you can become frustrated, which may lead to more stress. Take one room at a time and declutter. Don’t go it alone — make it a family project! Donate or plan a yard sale for items you no longer need. A good rule of thumb is to declutter your closets at the end of each season to rid your family of unwanted clothes, toys and other items. You will all feel less stressed afterward.
Manage School Stress
When the school year begins, children feel the added stress to perform, get good grades and manage any extra responsibilities. This can be overwhelming for both kids and parents. Help your children prioritize by making lists and crossing off items when completed. This will give your children a sense of control and accomplishment. The morning routine can often be hectic. Plan ahead by signing school papers, placing homework in the book bag and preparing clothing the night before. Some families find it helpful to take a look at the upcoming week together and discuss how to accomplish the necessary tasks and activities. Scheduled family meetings are often a great place for this to occur.
Engaging kids in activities can help them develop social skills, get exercise and just have the opportunity to play. However, overscheduling can be physically and emotionally exhausting for you and your children. As a result, some families rarely eat dinner together and may not take the extra time to stay connected. Ask yourself if any extra activity will benefit your kids or cause undue stress.
Watch for Signs of Distress
No family is perfect, and there may be times when you and your children experience added strain and stressors. Parents may argue about finances, discipline, household chores or relationship problems. It’s ok to disagree, but you should handle the disagreement in a respectful manner. By modeling healthy ways to deal with conflict, you will help your children develop the skills necessary to deal with it appropriately. If arguments become verbally or physically abusive or are not resolved, it’s time to seek help and discuss the issues in private so kids cannot hear. When experiencing relationship problems, it’s important to watch for signs of distress in your children. Changes in sleep patterns, dropping grades or kids acting out or becoming withdrawn from family and friends are signs that they may be overwhelmed and stressed.
Yes, You Can!
Deep breathing is a simple exercise to teach your kids for managing stress. They can do it anywhere or anytime they are feeling stressed. This exercise help kids to stop, relax and refocus. It can even reduce the stress response, which can feel overpowering and overwhelming. Other strategies include drawing pictures, journaling, talking to a close friend or an adult, playing with a pet and exercising. Try going for a walk as a family.
Teaching optimistic thinking can help to promote a sense of resilience. Think of The Little Engine That Could, in which the Little Blue Engine was faced with climbing over a very large hill to get to the other side of the mountain. The Little Blue Engine said, “I think I can, I think I can.” As it started to climb to the top of the mountain, the train became more confident and said, “I thought I could, I thought I could!”
Dianna Inman, DNP, APRN, CPNP-PC, PMHS, is an Assistant Professor at the University of Kentucky.