We’ve all probably read or talked about what causes stress and how it affects us. Sometimes it comes from what’s going on in our lives. Other times stress comes from our desire to do more with every minute of the day.
The same is true for kids.
It can be hard to be a kid. The world is a big place, there’s a lot of pressure to do the right thing, do well in school, be good in sports. As carefree as being a kid is supposed to be, from their perspective it can sometimes seem like the world is working against them.
Learning the skills to manage stress – to take that deep breath before reacting to a situation – may help your kids feel better, and handle situations in a positive way.
Karen Allaire, a certified pediatric nurse practitioner and holistic nurse, has worked as a pediatric nurse since 1982. Over time, she became interested in helping kids experiencing physical symptoms of stress.
“The stress kids were experiencing in their lives was manifesting in headaches, chest pain, stomach aches and anxiety,” Allaire comments. “The challenge I saw was that there was little available to help them manage the underlying causes of the symptoms.”
She started looking at what might be helpful, and that’s when she started studying mindfulness meditation and other similar practices.
Mindfulness is a centuries old practice that takes many forms. Sitting and meditating is the most common way to practice, but all the practices are about learning to be present in the moment. What comes to mind are teens who are texting on their phone, watching TV, checking Facebook, while working on their homework. For these kids learning skills to be in the moment could be a good thing.
For Allaire, the lessons are really about supporting kids. She does this by offering to teach them useful tools to reduce stress, and are practical for day to day life.
“I keep in mind that everyone is different. I stay curious as we explore which tools are a good fit. Mindfulness or Healing Touch are usually a good fit. If not, I keep offering options until we find the one that works.” Allaire explains.
Maybe kids are experiencing anxiety before the start of the school year. Or they’re transitioning from middle school to high school. There are so many situations kids face. Maybe they have a big game, recital or test. Some stressed kids live in families that have been affected by significant events – parent’s health, job, or finances – and everyone in the family is stressed. Every day may feel overwhelming. Mindfulness and similar practices can help kids cope.
“Parents and kids can practice together and the whole family can benefit,” says Allaire.
Allaire took the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class. From there she started researching to find mindfulness practices written for kids. She starts with basic techniques she learned from Susan Kaiser Greenland, author of the book The Mindful Child. These techniques help kids learn to respond rather than react, calm themselves, and concentrate and focus. Greenland is also the cofounder and director of the Inner Kids Foundation which brings mindful awareness to underserved kids and families in Los Angeles.
Awareness of Breath
No matter your kids’ age, mindful breathing can help. Whether it’s getting ready to take a test or to take the field for a game, pausing for a few moments to calm and center themselves can help them perform better. These exercises even work well for young kids and can help them learn skills that will last a lifetime. Breath exercises are also perfect for kids who have a hard time calming down, whether it’s before bedtime or transitioning from recess to the classroom.
Stress can lead to unhealthy eating. We crave junk food, or eat mindlessly while watching TV. Working to create a positive mealtime environment can help kids learn to separate emotions from food. They can also discover how delicious, fresh healthy foods taste!
Friendly Wishes Meditation
For those familiar with meditation and Mindfulness, this exercise is similar to a “loving kindness” meditation. It may help kids learn to deal with negative emotions like frustration or anger toward others.
Allaire points out that kids may react better to different strategies. For some kids, keeping a stone in their pocket, or wearing a ring to remind them to take a deep breaths throughout the day is helpful.
For others, aromatherapy brings relaxation. Kids keep a cotton ball with a few drops of an essential oil in a plastic bag. They open the bag and take a few deep breaths to smell the oil when they feel stress.
Last, try getting outside! Even taking a few minutes to step outside and breathe fresh air may turn a stressful day into a peaceful day.
How do you help your kids manage stress?