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Kids and Stress
Stressful times produce stressful kids. How can we empower our children as we empower ourselves?
The kids are not all right.
Last week I met Emily, a sweet 11-year-old who came to speak with me in anticipation of her Bat Mitzvah. After talking together for a few minutes, Emily’s sparkling eyes grew serious. “Slovie, can I tell you something?”
“Sure, sweetie, what is it?”
“I’m really scared. There are people that I know who are sick and I’m afraid that someone I love will get sick or get into a car accident or something. And some kids in my class, well, their parents lost their jobs and they have to sell their house and move now. They’re really sad. I stay up at night thinking about all this and I get a scary feeling inside.”
We live in challenging times. Our world is changing drastically and there are moments when we all feel vulnerable. We stress about our jobs, our families, our future, and our children feel our strain.
Children sense their parents’ pressures. They feel worried, sad and frustrated. Nearly one third of children interviewed in a new American Psychological Association study said that they had stress related headaches and stomachaches. 91% of kids said they know when their parents are stressed because they see them arguing and complaining or because their parents won’t spend time with them.
Sue Shellenbarger writes in the Wall Street Journal’s work and family column that “A new generation gap is emerging between American parents and their kids.” She concludes that this gap isn’t about chores around the house or nighttime curfews; rather it’s all about our stress and how it affects our children.
Anxiety is catchy. It becomes easy for children to feel our tensions and grow tense themselves.
In such challenging times, it is almost impossible for us to live stress-free lives.
Life is filled with struggles. There are times that we must confront frightening health issues, relationship problems, tension with children, or financial challenges. Some parents try to guard their children from the storm but kids know that something is going on. They see past the masquerade of frozen smiles and overly cheerful voices. They grow even more frightened as they imagine the worst and try to overhear hushed conversations.
While we do not have to give our children inappropriate details, we must acknowledge our children’s fears.
Storms will rage. One day our children will be forced to face their own struggles. If we could teach our children how to handle stress without falling apart, we impart tools for life.
How can we empower our children as we empower ourselves?
Don’t Allow ‘Trickle Down Stress’
Our children know that we are stressed even if we think they don’t. The mood in the house is tense; you sense it the minute you walk in. When we are overwhelmed it becomes easy to snap. Our patience is short.
“Mommy, can you help me with homework?”
“Daddy, can you play a game of catch with me?”
“LATER! I’M BUSY!”
You didn’t mean to answer with that harsh tone. You feel awful when you see your child’s face react to your sharp response. But what could you do? You are overloaded, short on time and patience.
Take a breath. Concede to yourself that you are going through challenging times. Be sure to take some quiet time out for yourself each day even if it’s just for a short walk or thoughtful prayer.
Resolve that you will not allow your stress to impact your children’s nature. Your temper will only destroy your children as you diminish yourself.
Your children are seeking answers. Reassure them that despite the hardships faced, your love is unconditional and forever. You are here for them. Tell them that you are doing your best and ultimately, things will be okay.
Carve Out Time with Your Kids
Spending time with children shows them that we love them. We do not need to take them on exotic vacations or thrilling day trips to express our emotions. Reading or baking together, sharing an ice cream, going for a bike ride, playing a game, sitting at the table for dinner as a family – all these little actions reassure our children that we are here for them and enjoy their company.
Don’t lose your sense of humor. Laugh out loud.
Good times together build memories of joy instead of painful recollections of a childhood filled with negative vibes and tension.
Model An ‘Up’ Attitude
Your children hear your words, observe your actions, and watch your reactions. If you do not allow challenges to get you down, your kids will pick up on your positive attitude. They will learn the power of resilience; the strength that we infuse in our homes when we resist the pull of pessimism. It is easy for worry to turn into hopelessness and in the process we lose our faith.
Sure, this is easier said than done. But as we empower our children, we empower ourselves. And think of what is at stake.
Raising a child when all is well is simple compared to bringing a child up while faced with difficult challenges. This may be the greatest battle of our lives.
I was driving a carpool when a child in the back seat piped up with a request.
“Mrs. Wolff, can you please turn onto the news station? You know, the one that has all the news all the time”
“No problem, but why would you want that station?” I asked.
“I want to know how the stock market did today,” was the reply. “I need to know what mood my father’s in before I get home. If it’s down, I can’t talk to him.”
This true story says it all. Let us ask ourselves: what is the aura in our home? Are we pushing our children away as we try to shoulder our burdens?
When faced with darkness we can either fall into despair or kindle a light. Our choice molds the next generation.
Slovie Jungreis Wolff is a noted teacher, author, relationships and parenting lecturer. She is the leader of Hineni Couples and daughter of Rebbetzen Esther Jungreis. Slovie is the author of the parenting handbook, Raising A Child With Soul. She gives weekly classes and has lectured throughout the U.S.,Canada, Mexico, Panama, and South Africa.