We ALL deal with the stresses of life. But we can choose to live in the present, discover the joy that each day holds, and leave the sorrows of tomorrow where they belong—in tomorrow.
Children of all ages can sense when the adults in their lives are worried and stressed. If they are too young to comprehend the source of the stress or the adults simply choose not to share the reason, children will fill in the blanks with their own ideas. As we know, fear of the unknown is the worst fear.
Two adults might have an argument at the end of a long day over a silly issue, but both know that eventually the dispute will be settled. Adults can keep the disagreement in perspective. Children sense only that the adults are angry, frustrated, or hurt. They don’t have the knowledge to understand that these brief emotions will pass and that the stability of the home isn’t threatened.
Stress is real. Life happens and presents us with real challenges. Here are some practical tips that might help you deal with stress and protect your child from filling in the blanks with his own ideas.
1. Take a personal inventory to ensure that you are handling your own stress in a healthy manner. You cannot care for anyone else if you are not healthy. We are all familiar with this airline policy: If there is an emergency when you are traveling with a small child, first put on your own oxygen mask and then assist your child with his mask. You cannot help him if you are unconscious.
2. Avoid stressful conversations in front of children. If it cannot be avoided, find an activity to distract them, such as playing outdoors. Sensory experiences also work great. Safety comes first, of course, but washing a baby doll or play dishes in a small tub with a little water is both soothing and fun.
3. If your child overhears an argument or sees that you are upset, be honest with her—but keep it age appropriate. Your three-year-old doesn’t need to hear that you are worried about an abstract concept. She CAN understand that someone didn’t play fair, and it made you feel sad. She will want to hug and kiss you because that’s how you make her feel better. Share enough, but not too much, information. A child’s shoulders are not meant to carry adult problems. Visually, think of it this way. You would not dress your child for school in your clothes. If you tell her all of your problems, you are emotionally asking her to wear YOUR emotional clothing. She is NOT equipped. It is our job to protect our children so that they can grow and become healthy adults.
4. Have house rules for the entire family and model them. If you don’t allow siblings to call each other names, be sure that you and the other adults in your home do not engage in name-calling either. A young child can spot a phony quicker than anyone.
5. If you are going through a stressful time, work diligently to communicate with your child, no matter the age. If you have an infant, spend extra time just holding your baby and concentrate on being totally present with her. If you have a toddler, make a promise to put aside every worry and get lost in playing with him for a certain amount of time each day. Play dress-up and pretend games with your preschool child. She will really open up with you when she is engaged in role play. Take time to really LISTEN to your child. It will ease your stress and allow you to truly see how she is doing during this time.
Choose joy, choose peace … and choose to be totally present with your loved ones. You will not regret the investment.
Written by: Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.