Think of stress-proofing your kids as planning for an emergency, like a fire. Smart families create an evacuation plan for their homes; that way, when a fire happens, everyone knows what to do. It’s the same with stress. Teaching young children to cope with stress before life becomes complicated and hormonal might be useful when those teenage fires roll around.
So without further ado, let’s look at five ways to raise stress-resilient children.
1. Be attentive.
This can be a hard one, especially for mothers. Your mind runs at breakneck speed – making mental lists, planning for tomorrow, even while talking with your family. But you need to slow down in the company of your children, because their mental health depends on it. According to a recent study in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, children whose mothers are poorly responsive during the elementary school years have a high measure of stress-related problems by middle school. So live in the moment for a while each day with your kids, and work on that to-do list when they’re not around.
2. Create positive social support.
Experts agree that children with lots of social support find stressful life events less upsetting. Why should this surprise us? It’s the same in our own adult lives. Reaching out to friends or family can help us through the toughest of times. Children have social needs, too. Encourage and enable your children to form a variety of close relationships with people you trust. And don’t rule out virtual friendships — new research published in the journal Cyberpsychology and Behavior suggests that even online social support helps to buffer the mental and physical impact of stress.
3. Let go a little.
Sometimes we put too much pressure on those little shoulders. In her book The Price of Privilege, author Marilyn Levine, Ph.D., says that concerned, well-educated parents can emotionally damage their young children with too-high expectations. She urges parents to be authoritative (firm with understanding and acceptance), rather than authoritarian (intrusive and controlling). This doesn’t mean letting them get away with everything. It does means letting go of your own parental neediness, such as wanting them to behave well just because you need to feel like a good parent.
4. Teach relaxation.
Have you ever sent your preschooler to his room because of a tantrum? What about putting your cranky toddler down for a nap? Besides restoring peace and quiet to your home, these parenting staples help your children develop their own self-calming techniques. But it shouldn’t take a tantrum to practice relaxation skills. Try this the next time your kids get stressed: lay flat down on the floor with them, everyone looking up at the ceiling. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, pretending that you’re sinking into the floor with each breath. Little ones will love it! You could even add to the mood by playing some soft lullaby music in the background. Music therapy has been shown to reduce anxiety in all kinds of situations.
5. Encourage spiritual growth.
According to a national study from Princeton University, adolescents who actively participate in religious worship have less depression than their nonreligious peers. And even preschoolers can benefit from spiritual awareness. Swedish psychologists have noticed a connection between decreased separation anxiety and religion. So don’t underestimate young spirituality – give your children opportunities to see the bigger picture of life and the needs of others around them.