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Stressed-Out Kids: Learning to Deal with Life's Ups and Downs

1. Recognize the Need to Be Nurtured
When Kate is stressed, she can actually feel the rush of hormones surging through her body. It jolts her from her sleep. Instantly she's on alert, wide awake and tense. When her husband senses her wakefulness, he reaches over, slips an arm across her, and pulls her into him, her back pressed against his chest. The comfort of being tucked there is immediate. Her heartbeat slows. She knows she's not alone, and she falls back to sleep.

Kate's husband is already taken – we can't have him, but we ca acknowledge that when we're stressed we need more nurturing, and s do our kids. Stress disrupts our basic sense of security, and your child needs you to help her feel secure, just like you did when she was a baby. And she needs you to do it proactively.

Proactively means recognizing the stress behaviors and the situation that cause stress for your family and consciously making the decision t slow things down and nurture more. It may seem difficult to do when you're stressed, too, but we can all learn from Kate's husband that it's the small gesture that can really make a difference. Little things such as asking your child if he'd like help, or offering to carry him before he asks you to. It's essential that you offer support before your child asks for because by doing so you allow him to make the decision: "Yes, I nee support right now," or "No, I can do this on my own." He feels empowered and secure.

As you work with your child take the time to savor his presence Revel in the memories of your child's infancy. Sing the lullabies you used to sing. If he's having difficulty separating from you, tell him before you leave a room that you are going and ask if he'd like to corn with you. Absorb the joy he finds in being with you. These small thoughtful actions and words will communicate loudly and clearly t your child, "I am here. I am available. You can trust me that I will not abandon you in your distress."

As you provide the support your child needs, let him know that soon he'll be able to do these things on his own. Your reassurance will give him hope and remind you that you are not fostering dependence. You are supporting him while he needs it.

Since you will not always know when your child is feeling stressed it's also important that you teach your child to respectfully ask for when she needs with phrases such as "Please hold me"; "I'm feeling over whelmed, will you help me?"; "Please sing to me";" I need help relaxing, would you rub my back?"; or "I just need you to be close." Be a role model. Ask the other adults in your life for what you need, too.

Confirm His Feelings
"Mommy, are you sad?" "Daddy, are you mad?" Kids ask the honest questions, and we're not quite sure how to answer them. We don't war to burden them with our problems. We are the adults, after all. But it also important to be honest with your kids. When your child sense that you are upset but you deny it, he learns that he can't trust his gut. Better to confirm his perception by saying something like, "You're right I am upset. Some things are happening at work. But you don't need to worry about it. Mommy and Daddy will take care of it."

Your honesty allows your child to confirm his perception. He feel more confident because he can trust his gut. At the same time you're not laying the responsibility on him, and that's an important point.

Help Him Name His Feelings
Danny was afraid of dogs, but his teacher didn't know this until she brought her docile Labrador to class. "I hate dogs!" Danny shouted. "I won't come to circle. You can't make me!" If his teacher hadn't been so observant, she would have heard only his words and may have though he was being oppositional and defiant, but she had seen the quid flicker of fear in his eyes. Instead of immediately reprimanding him, shi said softly, "This is a big dog. I'm wondering if he makes you fee uncomfortable." "I hate dogs!" Danny retorted. "It's all right for you to stay back and watch for a while," she told him, recognizing that he was probably frightened and an introvert who needed time to process that emotion as well as a thinker who didn't want to admit his vulnerability She didn't tell him that he was afraid; instead, knowing that Danny was listening, she proceeded to tell the other children how she had gotten her pet as a puppy and how afraid she had once been of dogs. Then she showed the kids how to pet the dog and invited those who wanted to touch him. Danny watched. Tentatively he moved closer but still die not come into the circle. His teacher smiled at him and turned her attention back to the other children. When all but Danny had petted the dog, she sent them on to play and then invited Danny to bring the dog's leash to her. He did, then reached down and quickly touched the dog's back. "It's all right to be cautious," his teacher said. "He's a big dog. Some people may be frightened by him." Danny simply listened. Late she asked him, "Do you think you were afraid?"

Coaching your child doesn't mean telling him how he feels. You're merely giving him information, asking questions, and offering example so that he can decide himself. When it's stress behaviors you're seeing remember the emotions are very likely to be fear, worry, exhaustion, sad ness, indecisiveness, hurt, or disappointment. Because stress triggers the fight-or-flight response, it's likely that the most obvious emotion is anger but anger is a secondary feeling. Something else like fear or worry often precedes it.


From the book KIDS, PARENTS, AND POWER STRUGGLES: Winning for a Lifetime by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, published by HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright 2000 by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. All rights reserved.

Buy the book at www.harpercollins.com.

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