“I am so upset because my best friend totally ignored me today,” says your daughter. Or what about “I don’t know why no one wants to play with me on the playground?” from your son. Too often we are quick as parents and adults to shrug off these comments, thinking “kids are kids.” Or, even worse, you may have caught yourself internally thinking “Sarah has no idea what stress is. She’s a child. She’s lucky. She doesn’t have to deal with bills, a mortgage, job loss, or health problems.”
Adults tend to oversimplify children’s lives and discount their stress levels.
Stress comes in a variety of packages. Some stress is short-lived and minor in scope compared to the long-term, never seems to go away, big-whammy kind of stress. Unfortunately my stress and my family’s stress falls into the later category. My husband has been very ill for many years, currently unable to breathe or walk on his own. His disease, chronic Lyme has hit his neurological and muscular systems hard. His illness has also hit our family hard, including our two small children, ages 6 and 3.
As a result, I tend to look at things a little differently than I used to. I have learned much from watching my children and I have learned to help them continue down their path of bouncing to and fro, but always down a path of resilience. Here are three ideas to apply to your own life:
Do not discount the stress or the feelings of your child.
2. After you acknowledge the feeling, pick one concrete thing that she has done well lately. Be specific. Don’t say “Oh honey, in general you are a great soccer player.” Instead try “I know you didn’t play well today, but I have noticed that in school you have consistently been doing well on your spelling tests. You must be proud of that.” This reminder will be appreciated by your child and will put the power back into her court. “Yes, I can do things well when I try and study…”
3. At appropriate times, point out when people have done something nice for you. For example, “Wasn’t it so nice that Mrs. Brown took our dog out when she took hers for a walk?” You might also encourage a dialogue over a meal or in the car. By asking your child to identify one nice thing someone did for someone else, you can have a brief discussion about the value of kindness. This teaches gratitude and that things are not guaranteed or owed to the child. It also puts things into their proper perspective – everyone needs help sometimes, everyone can have bad days, but there are good people out there – focus on the good.
Children, by default, look to the good. They are resilient by design. But unfortunately, as the years go by, they can forget these wonderful traits and start focusing on the negative and let themselves be controlled by others and events, rather than by their own person. Keep them on the right path by using stress to your advantage. Your family will thank you.
– Dr. Erica Kosal is the blogger of Traveling Troubled Times, where she writes about her experiences with raising two small children, caring for her chronically ill husband, and juggling a full-time career as a professor. She and her husband also maintain a website, Bounce to Resilience. This site is designed to provide information and help to people experiencing extreme stress and adversity.
Erica is also a public speaker inspiring people to take control of their own situation by adopting resilient strategies. Dr. Kosal also speaks on helping children who are facing extreme stress.
Dr. Kosal is the author of the forthcoming book (due out in late November): Miracles for Daddy: A Family’s Inspirational Fight Against A Modern Medical Goliath.