After a family vacation-three generations, five grandsons ages 6-11-hard to believe summer is almost over. One morning the boys were pitching sand balls into the lake, the next afternoon they were getting their backpacks ready for school.
Don't you usually read about children’s stress as it relates to news reports of war, violence, terrorism, abuse? But what about worrisome situations that hit closer to home – like the first day of school.
Not all kids respond the same and the impact of any stressor depends on their personality, maturity, and coping mechanisms. Some have trouble explaining how they feel so it’s not always obvious, although tears, withdrawal or irritability are often clues. Other's behavior might not change yet they feel nervous or fearful. And stress can affect physical wellbeing, with exacerbation of asthma, stomachaches or sleep disturbances.
What can you do to help?
Often the best predictor of how children manage is how well their parents cope with stress. They are often sensitive and struggle to understand their reactions. They may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, too big to admit they’re worried. Encourage them to talk about how they feel and not keep bad thoughts inside.
You can explain that feeling scared, worried or anxious is normal and will fade once they share their concerns and ask questions. As you talk about what’s going on and supervise the flow of information, you can clarify any distortions. Reassure them that they’ll be OK no matter what thoughts they’re having. All this will help them reframe their ideas rather than fall prey to emotion.
Their relationships matter. They feel better about themselves when they are getting along well with you. And kids who do not have close friendships are at higher risk for developing stress-related problems. No matter how busy their schedule, kids of all ages need time to play with others and relax. Play helps them learn about their world, explore ideas and soothe themselves.
Kids need support, but also space to work things out. You can’t walk a tightrope for them. Sometimes they need to fall, feel disappointment, and learn from their mistakes. Parents have to acknowledge their own anxiety and find the courage to step back. Remember that your children will thrive best in an environment that is reliable, consistent, and non-interfering. Their job is to grow, yours is to control worry so that it doesn't get in the way as they move toward autonomy.