Positive Stress Relief for ChildrenNovember 4, 2021
Guest post by Stephanie Wilkins
When homeschooling, we get to see the good, the bad, and the ugly rise and fall of our young children’s emotions throughout the day. When kids are stressed, sometimes negative reactions happen due to a child’s lack of knowledge to positively relieve that stress. As parents, it’s up to us to teach them. As well, parents can become busy with life and unknowingly ignore some of their children’s basic needs causing prolonged stress.
Stress affects everyone’s mind, body, and spirit differently. There are both external and internal stressors. Some stress is prolonged and some are short-lived. Short-lived stress is called fight-or-flight stress. Fight-or-flight stress raises adrenaline levels and helps us to flee or fight to preserve ourselves and others. Prolonged stress is a result of circumstances that present themselves as a challenge over time. Prolonged stress should be managed in positive ways or it may cause negative, impacts on physical and mental health for our child, ourselves, and others.
Use Routine to Diminish Stressors
So, what type of prolonged stress are young children exposed to? Many times, good, well-meaning parents simply get busy with life and fall out of normal routines. Children under the age of 7 thrive on routines, and when parents do not have one or stick to one, young children experience the prolonged stress of either being hungry, tired, or bored. These three stressors over time can cause many emotional breakdowns for little ones who need a certain number of calories per day, a certain amount of sleep per day, and need to be exposed to different stimuli throughout the day. They do not need, however, to be carted around in the car for many hours for Mom or Dad’s errands, or sit in front of technology for long periods of time with endless snacks so that Mom or Dad can get work done.
I’m not saying that I did not do that from time to time when my kids were little. I certainly did, when it couldn’t be avoided, but when I did, I reaped the consequences, as I’m sure you have too! So, it cannot become your “routine” to do so. Another thing to be careful of, in the name of “getting a break” as parents, or to “stimulate early learning outside of the home” is enrolling children in too many extra-curricular activities. The stress that this causes can be enormous! So, be choosy with extras.
Reduce Stress by Slowing Down and Getting Organized
So, what is the answer? Parents are busy people with busy lives! The answer lies somewhere in between slowing down and getting organized. Developing and sticking to a routine and working it daily will allow you to be able to run your errands, work, take a break and do the extra classes for them, but not at the expense of stressing your child by being unable to fulfill your child’s basic needs. See this podcast from Jamie Gaddy for more information on developing your routine.
The routine solves hunger stress for your child by providing you with time built in for meal planning, meal prep, and approximate times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It will also allow you to plan healthy snacks for your children. Sugary snacks do nothing but expend energy and then cause your child to crash. Protein-packed bars, cultured dairy products, and raw veggies are wonderful snacks that are easy to make and to serve during snack time. See this video I did for Homeschool.com for more information about meal planning for homeschool parents.
A routine solves the stress of “not enough rest” by having nap times built-in, as well as a bedtime routine that might include some rituals such as a nice warm bath, storytime, rocking, and then night-night!
For boredom, the routine allows you the ability to plan activities for your young child to do different, engaging things while you teach the older children, cook, work, and/or do some cleaning. These activities can be set up in different centers within your home and could include: Art, dress-up, play dough, puzzles, movie time, and quiet time. As you keep them moving from center to center, they will begin to look forward to each day. Make sure to change out the elements in your centers on a daily basis, meaning, a different form of art for them to experiment with, different costumes to try on, etc. This is about five hours of fun that they can do independently, while still in your presence for supervision.
Dealing With Negative Reactions to Stress
Negative stress relief, such as biting, hair pulling, hitting, and pushing can happen when children can’t express what they really need or want because they haven’t learned to communicate properly or because they have not been taught how to relieve their stress positively. Negative reactions are chosen frequently by young children because their brains are still developing and because children are impulsive. A negative reaction is instinctive and a quick fix for them even though it comes with negative consequences. Every child needs to learn patience and self-control, but it is up to parents to teach them. “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.” Proverbs 22:6 (NLT)
Here’s a great example: A child who wants love from their parent, may bite (Yes, I said BITE!) to get Mommy to pick them up! This negative form of coping with the stress of needing Mom or Dad’s love and attention does not get them the attention and love they desire, but without impulse control, their mind reaches for that quick fix. So, what do you do in a situation like this? First, be wise to look behind the curtain. Your normally cute and cuddly toddler has not turned into a vampire. You know this little person, so be wise to the reason behind the action and then appropriately deal with it. Teaching early communication skills, adding intimate time for them daily into the routine, giving them a consequence, and teaching self-control skills can assist greatly.
Here’s a sample plan for this particular example:
Communication: “Mommy sees that you want my attention. You cannot bite! Biting hurts Mommy. When you need Mommy’s attention, let’s say, ‘Love me, please.’ If Mommy can pick you up, I will. If I can’t, Mommy will keep a blanket for you right here (show it to them) that I will give you to hold on to until I can pick you up.”
If your child has a hard time with words, I have seen many people be successful with signing. There are a lot of good programs out there.
Routine: Build intimate time into the routine for just the two of you. This time could include rocking, reading a book together, or hugging and snuggling on the couch without the TV or your phone. These examples should spur your creativity.
Consequence: Having a consequence for behavior that hurts another person might include the culprit taking care of the person they hurt, an apology, and an age-appropriate loss of privilege for a set amount of time. “Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.” Proverbs 29:17 (ESV)
Tips for Teaching Self-Control
The best time to teach self-control for stressful emotions is when your child is happy and in a good mood. So, when they are behaving and having a good day, implement a teaching time into your routine. Teaching self-control should be done in 5-10-minute intervals from age 2 and up, and then build on that.
- Excite them by saying that you are going to play a game together. Tell them their game can be played now and when they are feeling unhappy to help calm them down.
- Seat your child in a comfortable spot.
- Set the timer for 2 minutes. (The next day 3 if they did well and so on and so on…)
- Give them something to focus on, such as folded hands, a blanket to hold, laying their head on the table, or even counting backward from 25, if they are able to do this.
- Ask them to be as quiet and still as can be and to concentrate on the focus point that you gave them (hands together, head laying on the table, counting, their breathing, their favorite color, etc.)
- Let them know that the game is over when the timer goes off.
- Begin the timer.
- When the timer goes off, congratulate them for having self-control. Reward them immediately with a special ceremony that they perform alone and when they are with you. It could be a special dance move, a special saying, or a hand gesture. Something simple, quick, and special. Do not reward with anything monetary such as money, food, or new toys!
After a few weeks of teaching new self-control skills, it’s time to put them into practice in a situation of emotional stress. When stress rears its ugly head, and a tantrum is in the making, acknowledge their frustration level first by saying, “Mommy sees that you’re frustrated,” and then say, “Let’s come over here and play our game that we have been practicing.” Set the timer and begin! When the timer goes off and they are calm, make sure to have them reward themselves immediately. After that, you can hopefully discuss the problem at hand without a bite mark on your leg!! LOL!!!! Whatever the basic need is that they are stressing about, practicing self-control will assist them to think through the situation, calm themselves, and learn to communicate…all of which are positive stress relief tools.
After teaching positive stress relief actions, dedicating yourself to a routine, and teaching your child to reward themselves, you will receive your reward. Your reward will be a joyful heart, a calm spirit, and a feeling of relief. It will feel so good that you will want to repeat the action that brings this reward over and over again. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” 3 John 1:4 (ESV)
More About the Author:
Stephanie Wilkins is a board-certified nutrition counselor and founder of “No More Band-Aids” which is a ministry of encouragement and evidence-based research for caretakers and those suffering from chronic health conditions. Stephanie is also a veteran homeschool mom of 21 years and has had the unique opportunity to have lived in four different countries and four different states. Stephanie’s passions are homeschooling, travel, health and wellness, and her faith.
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