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Parents can teach children skills for coping with stress

Published on -4/21/2014, 4:38 PM

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This is the eighth in a series about 21st Century families.

Q: How can parents teach children coping skills for stress management?

A: The following information is from an article included in a 2010 website titled "ultimate stress relief tips: the most effective strategy to teach children in demonstrating stress management." Parents are not the only role models for coping, but they are the most influential. Others who can have profound impacts are older siblings, extended family members, teachers and coaches.

The underlying principles for children's coping skills are creativity, acceptance, good health and resiliency.

First of all, parents need to instill in children healthy self-esteem, based on realistic pictures of their capabilities, talents, aptitudes and interests.

The goal for children is good self-esteem that creates positive attitudes. Another parental responsibility is paying attention to children and accepting them and their mistakes. In this century, parents can be so busy that they rarely give children their full attention. Parents, too, become addicted to technology. Children need unconditional love and undivided attention.

Another coping skill for children to learn is creative thinking. With positive self-esteem and self-confidence, children will learn trial and error strategies and persist until they are successful in their endeavors. They will have resilience. Positive children can learn to be sensitive to the needs of others when they are not always preoccupied with problems and stress.

Decision-making is most successful when children can visualize alternatives to problems, evaluate the relative worth of each and predict outcomes. Parents can help children with decision-making skills by providing examples to show how others make decisions. More importantly, parents need to allow children to make decisions and help them learn from good decisions and from their mistakes.

Directing attention to specific skills for decreasing anxiety and tension gives children tools to reduce stress. These techniques are breathing exercises, relaxation skills, imagery and workouts to relax muscles. Along with these tools, parents need to help children identify their stress triggers so they can begin to recognize their stressors and respond accordingly. Using laughter, fun and humor to reduce stress is very helpful with children. They like funny stories, programs, cartoons and movies.

Another tool for children is a healthy diet and regular exercise. The healthy diet should be by example and exercise should be built into family lifestyles when children are very young. Everyone can take walks together, including the dogs. Small children can ride in strollers and backpacks until old enough to participate actively. Families can swim together, play ball or other sports.

Children need to be introduced to commitments to realistic goals. Parents need to teach children flexibility in pursuing goals and the value of persevering toward achieving goals. Part of this process of commitment also is helping children see if goals are unrealistic or unsuitable and move on to something else. Children should be taught how to change direction or redirect themselves without feeling they have failed.

Helping children learn good social skills is necessary. They need to learn how to seek healthy relationships. They need to develop self-awareness and conflict management skills. The ultimate goal in raising children is to prepare them to be competent, resilient, self-confident adults who are successful, positive and who practice effective self-discipline and self-control.

Counselor, teacher and author Linda Goldman, M.S., deals with coping tools for children to help them deal with grief and trauma. The children of the 21st Century have to deal with trauma and tragedy in their own lives, while also experiencing the continual bombardment from the media about terrorism, war, famine, disasters and disease. Children react to these threats with fear, panic and anxiety. They also have intense feelings about family disruptions, bullying at school, and violence in schools. Children have to deal with crises in their own families. Along with these profound changes, there are losses. Parents have a responsibility to teach children how to deal with adversities, grief and trauma.

Children suffer losses from death, divorce, custody battles, relocation, abuse, neglect and bullying. These traumas cause children to feel helpless and powerless. Then disease, crimes, societal violence, suicides, homicides and accidents intrude into children's lives. Less acute losses, but probably more damaging in the long run, are parents who work long hours and have several jobs, have tremendous financial problems, have other family members raising their children or are leaving their children alone for long hours. The outcome of these trends is that children might not be getting the guidance they need from their parents nor are they learning healthy coping skills.

Coping strategies for grief and trauma include allowing children to grieve, become less fearful and feel safe in their homes, schools, and communities. Children should be helped to express their feelings and thoughts by play, drawing, journaling, music and problem-solving.

Children learn best when involved in developing their coping skills. Parent can discuss with their children many feelings are normal after traumas or losses. Children have to learn how to express their feelings in safe ways. Parents should encourage children to talk about lost loved ones, whether through divorce or through death. Parents can teach children how to be safe in crises by providing them with emergency procedures and other preparations.

Children should be encouraged to communicate their greatest fears. They can make lists and discuss these fears with persons they trust. Children also can help with donations or fund-raising for others experiencing tragedies. Any actions children take to make themselves or others safer will help them feel less helpless and powerless. Raising children today is a formidable task for parents, requiring time, energy, coping skills and patience.

* Next week's article will discuss how parents and schools can teach preteens and teens coping skills for stress management.

Judy Caprez is associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work.

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