You can’t prevent your kids from experiencing stress (although many “helicopter parents” try their best) but there is much you can do to help them learn to handle it.
All kids need to feel safe, secure and loved. A 35-year study that followed 87 Harvard College men into middle age found the healthiest at age 55 were those who said their parents were the most caring. The young men who said their parents were less loving, and especially those who saw their parents as unjust, were most likely to have illnesses like heart disease and hypertension by age 55.
Parents are the main anchors in children’s lives. When kids feel cared for and loved, their moment-to-to-moment stress is reduced lowering their stress hormones thereby improving immune function, setting the stage for a healthier adulthood.
So, talk to your children. Find out if they feel loved. This isn’t about buying them stuff. It’s about accepting their perceptions of their relationship with you as the truth and acting in a way that your children may experience you as fair and loving.
Just as a trapeze artist can practice new moves with more confidence and less fear knowing there is a safety net below to catch her if she falls, so, too, can children take new risks, try new stress management behaviors, when they know they have a safety net to fall back on when something goes wrong.
Build a stress safety net for the kids in your life. There are six components (adapted from my audio program “Teaching Kids how to Manage Stress):
1. Parents as role models;
2. Unconditional love;
4. Hope and optimism;
6. Personal responsibility;
If you have a mostly loving relationship with your children you can begin immediately to teach them stress management skills.
However, if you have a distant and distrustful relationship, you’ll need to concentrate on establishing a loving and trusting one first, before they will be open to you teaching them the skills that will follow in future articles. Concentrate on creating the safety net for the next months. When more trust evolves, then you can teach them how to think and how to problem solve.
We don’t normally think about teaching someone how to think. Yet your stressors begin and end with your thoughts about them. Your thoughts represent your beliefs, the underlying source of much stress. Your thoughts trigger your emotional reactions, which dictate your behavioral reactions. For example, your 15-year-old is nervous about a Spanish test. He knows he’ll do terribly (his belief). He tells himself, “I’m so stupid. I’m going to flunk this test.” (Belief/perception communicated through his thoughts.) He feels great anxiety and fear (stress emotions) and feels sick to his stomach (the fight/flight hormones wreaking havoc on his body.)
As a parent how should you handle this? Tell him how smart he is? Confirm that he does poorly in Spanish? Over the following weeks we’ll explore how you can help him handle this and many other challenges.
Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach.