Four Powerful Principles for Reducing Stress in Your Child
With so much talk and news coverage of the COVID-19 virus, the anxiety children may feel can come out in several ways, sometimes unexpectedly. Children sometimes react to anxiety by acting out, having physical symptoms (e.g., upset stomach), phobias, or avoiding things that remind them of their anxiety. Sometimes, even the most well-intentioned parent can also lose sight of what their child is going through because their own anxiety is elevated. Here are a few steps parents can take to help ease their child’s emotions during this time.
Give choices whenever possible. We all respond more favorably to being given choices rather than demands. Your child will appreciate this approach as well. Whenever possible, find a way that the child can choose to carry out responsibilities. For example, “Would you rather do your homework before or after dinner?” “Would you rather load the dishwasher or take out the trash?” This may not seem like much, but by empowering your child to have some manner of control over something they are required to do anyway, it gives them a level of buy-in to the activity. This encourages them to complete it because now they are doing it partially on their own terms.
Listen (even to things you may not be interested in). When something is important to your child, that really is all it takes for it to be worth listening to. You may not be interested in the latest movie or video game, but when your child is excited about something, it presents a great opportunity for you to share in their excitement and invest in your relationship. This not only makes your child feel important to you, but communicates that you respect them.
Give your undivided attention. Being a parent is difficult and busy work. It is easy for parents to try to listen to their children while doing something else at the same time. Even though you may be hearing the words your child is saying, you are not “being present” with your child. Actively listening to your child means that you give them your undivided attention, listen to their words, identify with their emotions and respond in ways that communicate your understanding. Good eye contact, a hand on the shoulder and appropriate facial expressions all let your child know they are important to you and that you value what they think, feel and say.
Share your experience, rather than give advice. Give guidance by sharing what you’ve learned. This makes you more of a real person to them and allows them to glean from your experience indirectly, rather than being told what to do. Talk about your own struggles and what you learned from them or how you felt. By sharing your own story instead of giving directions, you allow your child the freedom to learn from your lesson without feeling “preached” to.
If you have a st
rained relationship with your child, it will take time, effort and patience on your part to see these approaches pay off. Practicing these skills consistently will set the groundwork for your child to gradually become more willing to hear what you say and demonstrate respect back to you.
Larry Deavers is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker and Executive Director of Family Counseling Service of West Alabama.