Frequent nightmares, hyperactivity, change in appetite and sleep patterns – these are just a few tell-tale signs that your child might be stressed. Here are some parenting tips on raising calm kids
Before you start wondering how a child whose daily routine generally consists of playing, eating and school (depending on their age) could possibly be stressed, studies have shown that stress and anxiety (a common reaction to stress) are among the most common mental health problems affecting nearly 10% of children and adults. That’s not a huge surprise, given how frenetic and chaotic Hong Kong feels. So how do we prevent our kids from feeling this way? And more importantly, what can we do to ensure we’re not the ones causing the problem?
You need to be calm yourself
A quick Google search on the link between a parent’s mental state and their child’s will quickly establish how inextricably tied these two are. In fact, some studies have shown that the environment the child grows up in affects their development just as much as their genetic make-up.
What this means for parents is that your state of calm is crucial if you want to help your child develop theirs. According to Maria Montessori (founder of the famous Montessori curriculum), children below the age of 3 are particularly influenced by the actions of those around them. This is a good time for parents to take a step back and think about what your kids might be witnessing you do, because chances are higher for them to pick up those habits.
How to stay calm when things are spiralling into a hot mess? Notice how your breath might have gotten quick, shallow and tense. Take a big inhale, hold it for 3 seconds, and slowly let it go. Think about the real issue at hand – if it’s to get the kids dressed and out the door, then let’s focus on that. We get that your day seems like a never-ending to-do list, but the more we are able to focus on the task at hand, the less likely we will feel overwhelmed.
Ever heard of mindfulness? Yes, it’s all the rage now. Before you dismiss it (in case you were going to!), there are some merits in slowing things down a notch. Research has shown that practising mindfulness positively impacts the brain, allowing for increased ability to focus and also more emotional stability. To introduce mindfulness at home, try some of these suggestions:
Have the kids lie on the backs, with their favourite stuffed toy on their tummy. Get them to watch as the toy moves up and down with each inhale and exhale. It can be as short as 1 minute, or as long as they are able to pay attention.
Other ways include playing with clay or colouring; working with their hands gives them something to focus on compared to the breath, which may be challenging for beginners. The idea is to do a distraction-free activity, to train their focus and energies.
Help them express their emotions
Yes, our precious little ones are fully capable of expressing their displeasure. I can almost see all mums who’ve been through that two-year-old phase nodding. Expressing their emotions is more than that, though. One of the key reasons for the overly dramatic meltdowns and spur of the moment tantrums is precisely because children are unable to express their emotions well. They’re still in the stage of learning how to explain their feelings, and coupled with the lack of verbal skills to assist them, it’s no wonder they melt into a puddle of frustration and anger.
The next time you sense a meltdown coming on, instead of asking, “What do you want?” or “Why are you crying?”, try offering these instead; “Are you angry because …?” or “I see that you are getting frustrated. Would you like a cuddle?”. Statements such as these provide some acknowledgement to their feelings, as well as a form of resolution to support their feelings. They might not able to respond to open-ended questions yet.
Offer them security
The world is a pretty scary place for a child. Regardless of age, there are going to be new situations where they will find themselves needing a little time to assess and feel comfortable. If we just take a moment and think of a time we’ve felt out of our depth in a new environment, I’m sure you’d be able to sympathize pretty quickly.
Remember the time you asked a friend along for a networking event, or maybe that little bit of liquid courage before going on stage to give a speech, or perhaps that time you stayed on your phone all evening because you didn’t feel like mingling at a party? Yes, that same feeling happens to children, too, and just like adults, depending on the individual personality of the child, it takes different amounts of time for them to warm up.
In the meantime, what will help is offering them plenty of security whether it’s being by their side or bringing along a favourite toy. The more they realise that they have a safe, non-judgemental space to return to, the more it will build their confidence to try venturing out, instead of being swallowed by anxiety or stress.
What happens when your child is just unable to calm down?
Some children may have a particularly hyper nature or may have ADHD. In this case, positive reinforcement is a great way to acknowledge and encourage your child to repeat the desired behaviour. A simple “Good job!” or a high five does the trick, but we also like, “You did it!” and, “Wow, I see you putting in lots of effort,” as confidence builders, too. There is a chance that children who are hyper tend to feel discouraged or singled out because of their inability to perform certain tasks like the other children. They may feel that the world is constantly just telling them “No!”. Supporting and recognising their efforts helps them feel good about themselves.
Another method calls for parents to put this abundance of energy to good use. Have your child help with cleaning up the house or playing sports. This will give them a positive outlet to channel their energy. You can also try activities incorporating mindfulness, since it’s a useful way to get children to develop emotional stability, giving them a good foundation in managing the strong emotions and impulses that may arise during their day.
This article originally appeared on Sassy Mama Singapore on 2 May, 2018.