Helping Children Survive Stress
Solutions for helping children build resilience in change and stress
Posted Apr 03, 2012
While every generation differs culturally, there are some constants to helping children grow and thrive. Employing these childrearing rules is now critical more than ever because children are confronting life's biggest stressors on an ever-increasing and often recurring basis (top three stressors in life: death, moving and new job).
Let's first take a look at how life's top three stressors are rampant in the lives of today's children:
Death - With a skyrocketing divorce rate, children are grieving the loss of the former family structure. Oftentimes, children's grief needs aren't adequately met either as parents get caught up in their own emotional battle. On top of that, divorce is becoming so commonplace that kids may be expected to easily adapt because it's now considered normal. To make matters worse, children from divorced families are more likely to live below the poverty line (28 percent compared to 19 percent of children from married families as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau), leading to a host of traumas on top of stressors.
Moving - Children are more mobile than ever. Not only are children moving because of divorce (with many kids shiffling between two homes on a weekly basis), families are relocating for jobs at an increasing rate and/or downsizing and moving homes. Children also suffer when school districts rezone and force kids to switch schools.
New job - As mentioned in the above paragraph, many children are dealing with frequent school changes. Due to the warp speed nature of technological advancement, today's children also have to adapt and learn new technologies at alarming speed. That may not be so bad, however,many of these same adapting children are also being diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD) at rates faster than computer software update releases (as many as 5.4 million children in the United States, with prevalence rates significantly jumping over the past 10 years, according to the Center for Disease Control). Thus, children are dealing with so many demands from their school, home and extra activities that it's like starting a new job every day.
So what can you do?
One of the best pieces of advice that I can give is to stop and think about your child's point of view. Not only are children dealing with abundant stress in their life, they are still developing. While they seem astute and profound, they are not mini adults. To help you understand your child and to employ the most essential rules with them, here's a fantastic list created by Dr. William Glasser in his Schools Without Failure. I've amended the list at the end to include rules for kids in divorced families. Basically, it's a list of rules your child would tell you if they could articulate their developmental needs and perspective. I will add that these rules can be applied to little ones through teenagers (perhaps it's worth noting that especially teenagers because they appear so grown that it's easy to forget they are still maturing).
A Memorandum from a Child
Don't spoil me. (I know quite well that I ought not to have all that I ask for. I am only testing you.)
Don't be afraid to be firm with me. (I prefer it. It let's me know where I stand.)
Don't be inconsistent.(That confuses me and makes me try harder to get away with everything I can.)
Don't make promises; you may not be able to keep them. (That will discourage my trust in you.)
Don't fall for my provocations when I say "I hate you." (I don't mean it, but I want you to feel sorry for what you have done to me.)
Don't make me feel smaller than I am.(I will make up for it by behaving like a "big shot").
Don't do things for me that I can do myself. (It makes me feel like a baby, and I may continue to put you in my service.)
Don't let my "bad habits" get me a lot of your attention. (It only encourages me to continue them.)
Don't correct me in front of people. (I'll take much more notice if you talk quietly with me in private.)
Don't try to discuss my behavior in the heat of conflict. (For some reason my hearing is not very good at this time and my cooperation is even worse. It is all right to take action required, but let's not talk about it until later.)
Don't try to preach to me. (You'd be surprised how well I know what's right and wrong.)
Don't make me feel that my mistakes are sins. (I have to learn to make mistakes without feeling that I am no good.)
Don't nag. (If you do, I shall have to protect myself by appearing deaf.)
Don't demand explanations for my wrong behavior. (Sometimes I really don't know why I did it.)
Don't tax my honesty too much. (I am easily frightened into telling lies.)
Don't forget that I love to experiment. (I learn from it, so please put up with it.)
Don't protect me from consequences. (I need to learn from experience.)
Don't take too much notice of my small ailments. (I may learn to enjoy poor health if it gets me extra attention.)
Don't answer "silly" or meaningless questions. (I just want you to keep busy with me.)
Don't put me off when I ask honest questions. (If you do, you will find that I stop asking and seek my information elsewhere.)
Don't ever think that it is beneath your dignity to apologize to me. (An honest apology makes me feel surprisingly warm toward you.)
Don't ever suggest that you are perfect or infallible. (It gives me too much to live up to.)
Don't worry about the little amount of time we spend together. (It is how we spend it that counts.)
Don't let my fears arouse your anxiety. (Then I will become more afraid. Show me courage.)
Don't forget that I can't thrive without lots of understanding and encouragement, (but complimentary approval when honestly earned is sometimes forgotten when it seems like a scolding never is.)
Treat me the way you treat friends, then I will be your friend too. (Remember, I learn more from a model than a critic.)
My amendments for children of divorce...
Don't insult my other parent. (It makes me feel unsafe and fear that you don't like me because I am half of them.)
Don't make me choose between you and my other parent. (It tears me up inside and makes me feel like I'm in a war that I cannot win. I'm here because of both you. Choosing may force me to lie and manipulate in order to survive.)
Take extra care of me through change. (I thrive with consistency. Disruptions and continued change cause harm to me, making it difficult for me to thrive and grow.)
Please remember all the changes I am going through and take care of me without expecting me to take care of you. (I am constantly growing and having body aches. My brain is on overdrive as I learn at school and in everyday activities. These changes are happening so rapidly that I can get exhausted, leaving me little energy or know-how to parent you, so please parent me.)
Don't fight and battle with my other parent in front of me. (Nonstop battles scare me and lead me to regress, get depressed, withdrawal or act out and give me lasting wounds that are similar to a soldier at battle...especially because I'm not grown up enough to understand it or take care of myself through it. I need both of you to focus on me, not your resentments toward each other.)