As we continue to explore the constantly developing and evolving minds of our preschool children, this month we turn our focus to the fifth critical life skill, Taking on Challenges. Stress. Stress it not typically a word we associate with children. We think of our own stress at work, home, on our commute, etc., but we seem to confine the word and the concept to adulthood. Stress, however, is equally present in our children and is present from birth onward.
Stress in life is inevitable. Anytime we face something new, a challenge, an obstacle, or a failure, stress is the body’s natural response. For children, this may be moving to a new classroom, birth of sibling, learning to ride a bike, parental divorce or separation, military deployment of a parent, or even as simple as working to make a new friend. What matters most, however, is how we work through those encounters. For children, even when faced with major life stressors, the most important protective factors are having adults in place to provide a safe environment and warm guidance to help work through the situation. As parents, we can’t shield our children from stress nor should we. Children must learn that in life there may be struggles but, more importantly, that they have the ability and the support to persevere through tough times.
So, how can we help children learn to persevere when faced with life challenges?
- Manage your own stress. As much as we try to shield our children from our own stress, they are highly intuitive and can sense it. When young children sense their parents’ stress without the direct acknowledgement of it, it can actually increase the child’s stress due to misperception. Acknowledge your stress and model how you are dealing with it. For example, “Mommy needs a few minutes to think. Someone said something that is bothering me, and I need to think how I am going to respond.”
- Don’t try to shield your child from everyday stress. While we never want to throw our child into situations in which they are not prepared, we do need to encourage our children to approach and persevere through challenges. For example, “I know birthday parties make you feel a little shy sometimes. I want you to walk in, smile, and say Happy Birthday to the birthday boy. I know you can do it.”
- Give your child control. If you and your child continue to encounter repeated cycles of stressors, give your child some control in the situation. Ask your child how he or she wants to handle the stressor. For example, “Every time I tell you it is time to get in the car and get your seatbelt on, you tell me ‘no’ and act out. This gets me upset and upsets you too. What can we do to make getting in the car better for you and me?” Let your child set some expectations and parameters. You can then remind him that you are doing what he suggested and you can use that to gain some buy-in.
- Lastly, celebrate your child’s efforts and perseverance. This is different than praising his personality. Make comments about his actions and his attempts, such as “You did a great job getting in the car without fussing. Your suggestion of me giving you a warning and a countdown really worked well. Thank you for your suggestion.” This empowers your child and puts him back in a position of control.
With these small steps, you can make large strides to helping your child learn to face challenges head-on.
Lauren Starnes, PhD- Manager of Curriculum and Instruction
Chesterbrook Academy Royersford is part of Nobel Learning Communities, Inc., a national network of more than 180 nonsectarian private schools, including preschools, elementary schools and middle schools in 15 states across the nation. Chesterbrook Academy provides high quality private education, with small class sizes, caring and skilled teachers and attention to individual learning styles. They also offer before- and after-school care and the Camp Zone® summer program. Chesterbrook Academy in Royersford, Pa. is a part of Nobel Learning Communities, Inc. Please visit our website Royersford.ChesterbrookAcademy.com for more information about our school and how you can enroll your child today.