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What’s Working For Me: A Game To Help Stressed Kids Feel Better

Children often have feelings and thoughts of which they are not mindfully aware. Those thoughts and feelings about life experiences or specific situations can cause feelings of unease that increases anxiety.

At the heart of it, the cognitive side of anxiety (because there can be quite a strong biological side as well) is about the perception that one does not possess the necessary skills to cope with or manage specific task demands in daily life. As an example, a child might be stressed about a vocabulary test if the words are difficult for the child to read, remember and retrieve. A child might be anxious about going to lunch when he feels he might not have the skills to seek out a table mate and feel less alone while eating lunch.

So we have an activity in our book of 70 Play Activities called What’s Working For Me that helps children think about what might be working and what might not be working about a specific life circumstance. The children are then empowered to find new thoughts, words and actions to cope in a new way with the situation. You can use it for a variety of circumstances, let your creativity guide the way.

Let’s look at the lunch example. We would say this….quietly, one on one with the child.

“Joey, I see that you are hesitant to go to lunch each day. I’d like to know more about what that is like for you. Are you open to playing a thinking game with me about lunchtime?”

“Let’s write down a few things that are working for you when you go to lunch. Then we can fill out our What’s Working for Me planning sheet and develop a plan to make lunch time better for you.”

What’s Working For Me

T: Let’s think about what you like about lunch.

J: “Well, I’m usually hungry, so it’s good to eat.”

J: “I like the days when they serve grilled cheese.”

J: “When Sam is at school, I usually sit with him.”

T: “Great! let’s write that in the green box, What’s Working For Me.”

T: Now, what don’t you like about lunchtime?

J: “I hate sitting alone.”

J: “Sam is sick a lot so then I have to sit alone.”

J: “No one asks me to sit with them.”

J: “It’s embarrassing.”

T: “Thanks for sharing that with me, I can see how it could feel sad to eat lunch alone.”

T: “We have a third box on our What’s Working For Me planning sheet. Let’s brainstorm how lunch could look differently so you can feel better about going to lunch.”

T: “If lunch were better for you, what would that look like?”

J: “Well, I’d have a friend to sit with all the time.”

T: “Who else besides Sam, might you like to sit with?”

J: “Jessica but she sits with her friends.”

T: What if you asked Jessica, “Hey Jessica when Sam’s not here, may I sit with you guys at lunch?”

J: “She’d probably say, ‘No.’

T: “What might be a good time to ask her? Would the best time be right before lunch, or might you ask her in class one day to plan ahead for the situation?”

J: “I could try to ask her in the morning before school.”

T: Okay let’s write that down and maybe even practice the words you will use.

T: “Then we can even write a few more ideas, about other things you can do to make lunchtime a happier time for you.”

As teachers, clinicians and parents, you know that conversations with children might be really straight-forward or you might need to help them along in the conversation. Be patient, ask reflective questions or ask the child to tell you a bit more, “Help me understand that better.”

Just letting stressed children know that they can solve a difficult situation by looking at what is working and what they’d like to see be different is empowering and can lead to better daily experiences.

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70-play-hi-res-150x197Written for teachers, educators, and clinicians whose work involves playing, talking or teaching children who would benefit from better executive function and social-emotional learning skills, 70 Play Activities incorporates over 100 research studies into printable worksheets, handouts, and guided scripts with step-by-step directions, to empower children to learn and behave better. “With 70 Play Activities we aim to improve the trajectory of children’s learning by integrating the newest neuroscience with activities children love!” With over 70 activities designed to improve thinking, self-regulation, learning and behavior, your tool-kit will be full and your creative brain will be inspired to craft your own meaningful exercises. 70 Play Activities is available at amazon.com

 

5 Healing Scents For Your Family, You May Not Know About

The secret to better sleep, more energy and fewer cold symptoms may be right beneath your nose: A growing body of research shows that certain aromas can improve your well-being. “Scents trigger a reaction in the nervous system,” explains Dr. Julie Chen, an integrative physician and owner of Making Healthy EZ in San Jose, Calif. “And that can have an effect on the entire body.”

To find out which ones have the greatest healing powers, we sifted through the studies and consulted the experts. Get a whiff of these mind and body benefits!

1. Lavender for better sleep. Tired of counting sheep? Try sniffing this fragrant purple flower. Researchers at Wesleyan University found that people who breathed in lavender essential oil before bedtime slept more soundly — and spent more time in restorative slow-wave sleep — than when they whiffed a placebo.

“This aroma can help both adults and children relax,” adds Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami. In one study, she and her colleagues found that babies cried less and snoozed more when lavender-scented bath oil was added to their nighttime bath.

2. Peppermint for more energy. Put down that double espresso and unwrap a red-and-white striped candy: The cool smell stimulates the area of the brain associated with alertness and attention, say researchers from Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia. In a series of studies, the scientists found that people who breathed in peppermint were faster and more accurate during clerical tests. They were also more aware and less frustrated while driving.

3. Eucalyptus for cold symptoms. “Eucalyptus helps clear nasal passageways,” says Chen. Developing research suggests that it may help break up mucus, also loosening coughs, according to the National Institutes of Health.

What’s more, a study published in the journal Respiratory Medicine shows that eucalyptol, the active ingredient, has anti-inflammatory properties and may ease inflamed airways. “Whiffing eucalyptus won’t get rid of a cold,” says Chen. “But it may lessen those symptoms and suffering.”

4. Jasmine for a happier mood. The next time you’re feeling stressed out, harness the power of this little white flower. German research found that the sweet smell increased levels of GABA, a mood-boosting chemical, in the brain. Jasmine has also been shown by Thai researchers to increase alertness and alleviate depression.

5. Green apple for pain relief. The aroma of an apple a day may keep headaches away. In a study done at the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, migraine sufferers who whiffed green apple experienced less pain over a shorter period of time than when they breathed in an unscented placebo. It could be that the smell distracted them from the pain, say the researchers, or it could be that it reduces the muscle contractions that intensify migraines.

The Right Way to Whiff

“If done properly, aromatherapy is generally safe, with few side effects,” says Chen. “That’s why it works well as an adjunctive therapy, or in addition to conventional treatments and medications.”

Chen advises looking for scents with few additives. “I like essential oils,” she says. But don’t take a deep breath directly from the bottle or rub the liquid onto your skin, which can lead to irritation. “Wave the cap beneath your nose or use an aromatherapy diffuser,” she says. Want to inhale a scent, like lavender, while you sleep? Put a few drops of the oil on a tissue or handkerchief and stash it beneath your pillow.

Some scents are also available in topical products — like eucalyptus, an ingredient in vapor rubs — formulated for safe use on skin. (Check the packaging for age restrictions and instructions for application.)

And remember, it is possible to be sensitive to certain smells and products, says Chen. So if you or your child starts to experience any unpleasant symptoms, like headaches or irritation, stop whiffing.

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Editor’s Note: As always, please check with your child’s pediatrician before trying anything new. Allergies and sensitivities are unpredictable – especially where children are concerned.

I’ll Give This “10”: How to Help Kids Reframe BIG Feelings

How can you help kids deal with BIG feelings or emotions? With all the stress kicked into high gear by the holiday season -or any time kids are overly anxious- help children to understand and reframe their feelings and life experiences by having a Cognitive Conversation that recognizes and acknowledges their emotions and then lets them decide how long they want to continue to feel that way…

Consider a conversation that sounds something like this:

Kids! We all have BIG feelings sometimes. Some experiences bring us feelings of frustration, anxiety or anger. Let’s talk about times when we might make a decision about how long we will be “in” our feelings and when we will choose to let them go. Will we be “in” our feelings for 10 seconds, 10 minutes or 10 hours? You decide. Here’s an example…

 

If you waited in line for an ice cream cone and when it’s finally your turn, you learn they are out of vanilla ice cream, you might say to yourself, “That is super frustrating. I was so hungry for a vanilla cone. I’ll give this 10 seconds and then ask for a chocolate one.”

I’ll Give This 10! is a practical tool for feelings exploration, cognitive reframing and mood modulation.

 

In I’ll Give This 10, we learn how to recognize that when we are having BIG feelings, we name them and then tell ourselves how long we plan to experience these BIG feelings. We usually choose to “feel our emotions” for 10 seconds, 10 minutes, or 10 hours. Of course, this “rule of 10” is a cognitive construct, it could be 2 minutes or 27 minutes. But children get “10,” so it is a wonderful starting point to help a child to determine:

  • “HOW BIG is this feeling?”
  • “HOW LONG am I going to let this feeling determine my thoughts and behaviors?”
  • “WHEN will I let this feeling go?”

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70-play-hi-res-150x197Written for teachers, educators, and clinicians whose work involves playing, talking or teaching children who would benefit from better executive function and social-emotional learning skills, 70 Play Activities incorporates over 100 research studies into printable worksheets, handouts, and guided scripts with step-by-step directions, to empower children to learn and behave better. “With 70 Play Activities we aim to improve the trajectory of children’s learning by integrating the newest neuroscience with activities children love!” With over 70 activities designed to improve thinking, self-regulation, learning and behavior, your tool-kit will be full and your creative brain will be inspired to craft your own meaningful exercises. 70 Play Activities is available at amazon.com

This Holiday Season, Commit Your Family to a “Vow of Yellibacy”

Let’s face it, yelling is one way to let off steam. And we seem to be letting off more than our share these days. Unfortunately, the holidays is a time when stress builds and we let off steam with one another. Studies show that both kids and parents alike are far more stressed than just a decade ago. Those studies also show that family yelling matches and flaring tempers are especially prevalent during tough economic times–like now, and there’s proof: An online survey of 1300 U.S. parents named yelling—not working or spanking or missing a school event—as their biggest guilt inducer.

Our tempers do affect our kids. Yelling can also become an easy habit that can ruin family harmony. Just tolerating yelling just teaches a kid that the way to get what you want is by upping the volume. And beware: the more yelling, the more it must be utilized to be effective. So family members get used to the screaming, the pitch gets louder, the frequency gets longer and soon everyone starts using it so they can be heard. Yelling is also contagious so chances are once one family member has learned to scream another will catch the “screaming bug.”

If you want to boost your family’s harmony and reduce those yelling matches, then something needs to be altered, A.S.A.P. Here are the seven steps to reduce this vicious yelling cycle. Change takes commitment, but it is doable. Stick to that plan!

7 Steps to Reduce Yelling, Curb Tempers, and Be a Calmer Family

STEP 1: Take a “Calmer Family” vow. Begin by gathering the troops and convey your new “no yelling” expectations to all family members. Everyone must know you mean business that yelling will no longer be tolerated. Explain that while it’s okay to be angry, they may not use a yelling voice to express their feelings. If the member needs to take a time out to calm down, he may do so. Some families take a “no yelling” vow and sign a pledge, and posted as a concrete reminder. Hint: Kids mirror our emotions. When you raise your voice, they raise theirs. When you get tense, they get tense. The fastest way to help your kids reduce anger is for you to be calm.

STEP 2: Learn your stress warning signs. Stress comes before anger. Anger comes before yelling. The best way to stop yelling is to identify your own unique physiological stress signs that warn us we’re getting angry. Explain to your kids that we should tune in to them because they help us stay out of trouble. Next, help your child recognize what specific warning signs she may have that tell her she’s starting to get upset. For example: “Looks like you’re tense. Your hands are in a fist. Do you feel yourself starting to get angry?” Anger escalates very quickly: if a kid waits until he is in “Melt down” or a “screaming match” to get himself back into control, he’s too late—and so are you to try and help him. Here are a few common warning signs: Flushed checks. Pounding hearts. Louder voice. Clenched hands. Grinding teeth. Rapid breathing. Body vibrates. Drier mouth

STEP 3. Identify family temper triggers. Yelling matches typically happen at the same time such as when you just get home from work, homework time, the morning mania or witching hour. It helps family members learn to recognize one another’s time vulnerabilities–or the time they are most prone to yell. For instance: John: First thing in the morning when he’s always grouch. Kenny: around 2 pm when he needs a nap. Mom: 6 pm when she’s trying to get dinner going. Members just need to be a bit more sensitive.

STEP 4. Teach healthier alternatives to express needs. Many families yell because they simply don’t know how to express their anger another way. So teach a healthier way.

  • Teach “I” messages. Explain that instead of starting messages with “You,” begin with “I.” It helps your kid stay focused on the person’s troublesome behavior without putting the person down so the chances for emotional outbursts (and yelling) are lessened. The child then tells the offender what the person did that upset him. He may also state how he’d like the problem resolved. For example: “I get really upset when you take my stuff. I want you to ask me for permission first.” Or: “I don’t like to be teased. Please stop.”
  • Label emotions. Encourage members to acknowledge their hot feelings to one another. “Watch out. I’m really getting upset.” “I’m so angry I could burst.” “I feel so frustrated that you’re not listening to me.” Labeling the feeling helps both the yeller and the receiver calm down and get a bit of perspective. Give everyone in your family permission to verbalize their feelings and then honor them by listening to their concerns.
  • Give permission to “Take Ten”. Let everyone in your family know it’s okay to say, “I need a time out.” Then take a few deep breaths or walk away until you can get back in control. Then give that permission. If the yeller doesn’t stop, ask him to go to time out. Set up a place where a yeller can calm down.

STEP 5. Refuse to engage with a screamer. You know this one: “If your kid screams and you scream, you all scream. So make a rule that you will NOT engage with an out-of-control kid. Wear a bracelet to remind you. Or tape a red card to your wall so when you see it, it tells you: “Stay calm!” Here are a few other tips:

  • Create a warning signal. Some families make up their own “family signal” such as pulling your ear, holding up a red card or a “Time Out” hand gesture. You agreed upon by all members and it signifies someone is using an inappropriate voice tone. Then use it the second his voice goes one scale above a “normal range” give the signal. It means he needs to lower his voice immediately or you won’t listen.
  • Do NOT engage. If he continues using a loud, yelling tone, absolutely refuse to listen. Firmly (and calmly) explain: “That’s yelling. I only listen when you use a calm voice.” The moment you yell back the yeller knows they won and the yelling cycle continues. If you have to lock yourself in the bathroom do so. The screamer needs to know yelling doesn’t work. Walk away and go about your business until he talks right. As long as he yells, keep walking.

STEP 6. Reduce stress as a family. Find what is adding to your family’s stress that is triggering those yelling matches. While you may not be able to get dad’s job back or gain back your retirement fund but you can do things to reduce the stress in your home. Here are a few things.

  • Keep to routines. Sticking to a routine helps reduce stress because it boosts predictability and boosts security. While everything else around them may seem to be crumbling those bedtime rituals, nighttime stories, hot baths, hugs and backrubs remain the same.
  • Cut down. Too much going on? Cut one thing out of your schedule. Just reducing one thing can reduce those yelling matches because you’re cutting the stress.
  • Monitor news consumption. Limit viewing those stressful news stories or better yet, turn the TV off during the news hour. Kids admit those stories are scaring the pants of them (and us) and will boost our stress—and tempers
  • Find ways to relax. Find no-cost ways to reduce stress as a family. Meditate with your kids, do yoga with your daughter, ride bikes with your preschooler, listen to relaxation tapes with your kids. Not only will you reduce your stress but you’ll also help your kids learn healthy ways to minimize theirs. It will also reduce the yelling.
  • Rebuild relationships. Are your kids yelling because they’re not being heard? Or has yelling been going on so long and now relationships are jarred? Find one on one time with those family members who need you most.

STEP 7. Stick to your Calmer Family, “Vow of Yellibacy” at least 21 days. Change is hard work. Be consistent. Your kids need to know you mean business, so stick to your plan at lest 21 days. Get a monthly calendar and mark off each day you stick to the plan. You should see a gradual reduction in the yelling. If yelling continues despite your best efforts or escalates, then there is a deeper underlying problem. It’s time to seek the help of a mental health professional for your child or a therapist for you and your spouse or family. But commit to following through so you do temper those tempers and you become a calmer family.

Above all stay calm. Kids mirror our emotions and just-released research proves that our kids are picking up on our stress. They also copy our behaviors. When you raise your voice, they raise theirs. When you get tense, they get tense. The fastest way to help your kids reduce stress and help kids calm down is for you to be calm yourself.

So are you ready to take that Vow of Yellibacy??

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Thrivers Book CoverAcross the nation, student mental health is plummeting, major depression rates among teens and young adults are rising faster than among the overall population, and younger children are being impacted. As a teacher, educational consultant, and parent for 40 years, Dr. Michele Borba has never been more worried than she is about this current generation of kids. In THRIVERS, Dr. Borba explains why the old markers of accomplishment (grades, test scores) are no longer reliable predictors of success in the 21st century – and offers 7 teachable traits that will safeguard our kids for the future. She offers practical, actionable ways to develop these Character Strengths (confidence, empathy, self-control, integrity, curiosity, perseverance, and optimism) in children from preschool through high school, showing how to teach kids how to cope today so they can thrive tomorrow. THRIVERS is now available at amazon.com.

5 Strategies to Conquer Your Kid’s Doctor Phobia

Parents aren’t always naturals at soothing their children’s fear of doctors or dentists. But there are things they can do to make the visits less upsetting, says Meghan D. Kelly, M.S.Ed., C.C.L.S., director of the Phoebe H. Stein Child Life Program at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. Besides staying calm, keep this advice in mind:

Doctor Phobia Strategy No. 5: Be up front. “Believe it or not, I’ve seen some kids coming in for surgery whose parents told them they were going to Toys”R”Us,” says Kelly. Not helpful. If you’re going for a routine checkup, explain to your kids that in order for them to have strong bodies and healthy teeth, their doctor needs to check if everything is working well. Describe what the doctor might do: look in his ears, listen to his chest, etc.

Doctor Phobia Strategy No. 4: Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Promising “no shots” is a bad way to get kids through the door — unless you’re 100 percent sure there won’t be any. An artful omission is OK, though. “You can say, ‘I’m not sure what’s going to happen today, but I trust the doctor to decide what you need,’” says Kelly.

Doctor Phobia Strategy No. 3: Acknowledge the fear. Denying that something might hurt or telling your crying child to “be a big girl” will only make her feel ashamed and more anxious, says Kelly. Instead, validate what she’s feeling and offer coping strategies, such as “If you want, I can count to three. When I’m done, it will be over.”

Doctor Phobia Strategy No. 2: Use comfort strategies. Giving kids choices makes them feel a bit more in control,

Doctor Phobia Strategy No. 1: Use low-key language. If a shot is unavoidable, stay away from words like “sting” or “burn.” Instead, Kelly suggests saying, “You’re going to feel the doctor pressing on your arm. It might feel warm, and then it will be finished.”which ultimately eases anxiety. Let them decide where they’d like to sit during the exam — on the table or on a chair. Use the art of distraction. Chat about a favorite show or read a picture book you’ve brought along.

If your pediatrician seems insensitive to your child’s fears, set up a time to address your concerns. If she still doesn’t get it, it may be time to move on.

Reducing Our Kids’ Worries About A Scary, Unpredictable World

Worried child in front of graffitiAs parents, we can reduce our kids’ worries about a sometimes mean, scary, unpredictable world and curb the growing “Mean World Syndrome”

School shootings. Bombings. Power storms. Terrorism. War. Pedophiles. Recession. Cyberbullying. Global warming. Tsunamis. Earthquakes. Sexual abuse, COVID-19.

It’s a scary world out there for us, but how do you think the kids are faring?

Let’s face it – we live in frightening, unpredictable times. But if you are feeling a bit jittery about violence, turbulent weather conditions, coronavirus, or a troubled economy, imagine how our kids must feel. Talk of uncertain times permeates the world around them. Graphic television images of sickness and terrifying events just reinforce their fears.

Think about it: this is the first generation of children who have watched broadcasts of school massacres, terrorist attacks, natural disasters and hospitals filled with sick and dying coronavirus patients from their own living rooms.

Make no mistake: the image of the world as a mean and scary place is affecting our kids’ well-being.

In fact, George Gerbner coined the term “Mean World Syndrome” to describe a phenomenon when violence-related content in the mass media makes viewers believe that the world is more dangerous than it actually is. And that syndrome seems to be one that our kids are catching.

Our Teens Weigh In About the Concerns For Our World

Several years ago I worked with the schools in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It was a glorious Norman Rockwell-type community. Picture perfect. Idyllic. Just plain wonderful. Street lamps are actually shaped like Hershey kisses. I spent time talking to students groups as I always do before addressing the parents, community and staff. It’s my way of getting a pulse on teen concerns.

I always ask the principals to give me a sample of the students so the focus group represents all genders, races, cliques, economics. I end up with a homecoming princess, a jock, a band kid, a theater student, a student council leader, a misfit. Kids. Just kids. And do they ever open up when they know someone is there to really listen.

“What are your concerns?” I asked them. And those teens began to share their worries:

“My grades.” “I don’t know if I’ll get the scholarship.” “I don’t want to let my parents down.” “Peer pressure.” “I don’t know if I’ll get into college,” they said.

“And what are your worries outside of this town?” I asked. “What concerns you about the world?”

The kids are in non-stop mode now and I’m running out of space just trying to jot down their concerns:

“Iraq.” “Iran.” “Global warming.” “Power storms!” “Terrorism.” “Violence.” “Prejudice.” “Sexual predators.” “Recession.” “Getting a job.” “Our future.”

Their “worry list” goes on and on. Then one boy stops us all with his question:

“Do you think we’ll ever live to see the future?,” he asks quietly. “I worry about that a lot. I don’t think our generation will.”

The look on every teen’s face says it all. Each child had the same concern. The fear on their faces has haunted me.

The Kids Are Worried Folks

We think kids don’t think about such “big” worries. Wrong. Those teens are no different than the hundreds of other teen focus groups in this country. And here’s proof.

A survey conducted by MTV and The Associated Press of over 1300 teens nationwide found that only 25 percent feel safe from terrorism when traveling.

The vast majority of teens admitted that their world is far more difficult than the world their mom or dad grew up in. Just consider a child growing up today vs. yesterday. In the 1950s, a survey found that our children’s biggest fears were loud noises, snakes, insects, and a parent’s death. Fast forward fifty years later. The most pressing kid stressor today is still a parent’s death, but “violence” has now replaced loud noises and snakes.

But the biggest fear many teens report today: “I’ll never live to see the future.”

It hurts just to hear their top concern.

The New “Mean World Syndrome”

The fact is constantly hearing about troubling world events does more than just increase children’s anxiety.
It also alters their view of their world.

Many child experts are concerned that today’s children are developing what is called “Mean World Syndrome.” It means our children perceive their world as a “Mean and Scary Place.”

Of course we can’t protect our kids and assure their safety, but we can help allay those fears and see their world in a more positive light.

Studies have shown that about 90 percent of all anxious children can be greatly helped by learning coping skills.

Here are a few parenting strategies you can use to help reduce your kids’ anxiety particularly in these uncertain times and help them develop a more positive outlook about their world.

Tips to Curb Kid Worries About a Scary World

1. Tune Into Your Child – Start by observing your child a bit closer when a frightening event occurs. For instance:

  • Is your child afraid to be left alone or of being in dark or closed places?
  • Does he have difficulty concentrating or is he excessively irritable?
  • Does she react fearfully to sudden noses, revert to immature behavior patterns, act out or have tantrums, or nightmares?
  • Is he bedwetting, withdrawing, crying excessively, or a experiencing a change in eating or sleeping habits?

Each child copes differently, so tune into your child’s behavior. Doing so will help you recognize how your son or daughter deals with life’s pressures and know when you should help to reduce those worries.

2. Monitor Scary News – Limit your child’s viewing of any news that features an alarming event (such as a kidnapping, pedophiles, makeshift morgues and tents setup in convention halls to treat the overflow of COVID-19 patients, etc). Monitor. Monitor. Monitor!

Studies show that seeing those violent images exacerbates anxiety and increases aggression in some kids and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) in others. And don’t assume because your kid is older, the news does not affect him.

A Time/Nickelodeon study found that preadolescents said that those TV news bulletins that interrupt regular programming were especially disturbing. They admitted being even more anxious if a parent wasn’t there to help explain the event to them.

If your kids do watch the news, watch with them to answer their questions. Be there!

Also, monitor also your conversation with other adults so your kid doesn’t overhear your concerns.

3. Keep Yourself Strong – Don’t expect to be able to help allay your kids’ anxiety, unless you keep your own in check.Are you watching what you eat and reducing anxiety-increasers such as caffeine and sugar, exercising, getting enough rest, seeking the support of friends, or spending a quiet moment alone?

Remember, you can tell your kids you’re not worried about those world events or a troubled economy, but unless your behavior sends the same message your words have no meaning.

Our parenting priority must be to keep ourselves so we can keep our kids’ strong. That means we need to reduce our harried, hurried schedules so can model calmness to our kids. So just cut out one thing – be it the book club, the violin lessons, or cooking the “gourmet dinner” every night. Just reduce one thing! Your kids mirror your behavior and will be calmer if you are calmer.

4. Be Emotionally PresentDon’t assume because your child isn’t talking about the latest news tragedy or the recession, that he isn’t hearing about it. Chances are he is and he needs to get the facts straight. You are the best source for that information. Your child also needs to know that it is okay to share his feelings with you and that it’s normal to be upset.

You might start the dialogue with a simple: “What have you heard?” or “What are your friends saying?”

You don’t need to explain more than your child is ready to hear. What’s most important is letting your child know you are always available to listen or answers his concerns.

5. Do Something Proactive As a Family – One of the best ways to reduce feelings of anxiety is to help kids find proactive ways to allay their fears. It also empowers kids to realize they can make a difference in a world that might appear scary or unsafe.

  • Put together a “care package” to send to a health-care hero (a supermarket gift card, home-made masks and a hand-written note of appreciation).
  • Adopt the elderly neighbor and leave a batch of homemade cookies outside her door.
  • Or have your kids help you send “hugs” (a teddy bear, crayons, coloring book) to a child who has just lost all her earthly possessions in a flood, tornado, fire or is quarantined at home with a parent in the hospital.

6. Pass on Good News Reports – Draw your child’s attention to stories of heroism and compassion – those wonderful simple gestures of love and hope that people do for one another (that seem to always be on the back page of the paper). Find those uplifting stories in the newspaper and share them with your child.

A wonderful time to review them is right before your child goes to sleep. You can also encourage your kids to watch for little actions of kindness they see others do and report them at the dinner table. Many families call these “Good News Reports.”

It’s important to assure your children that there’s more to the world than threats and fear. Your actions can make a big difference in helping to send them that message.

7. Teach Anxiety-Reducing Techniques – Anxiety is an inevitable part of life, but in times like these those worries can be overwhelming. Here are just a few techniques you can help your child learn to use to cope with worries:

• Self-talk. Teach your child to say a statement inside her head to help her stay calm and handle the worries. Here are a few:

“Chill out, calm down.”

“I can do this.”

“Stay calm and breathe slowly.”

“It’s nothing I can’t handle.”

“Go away worry. You can’t get me!”

• Worry melting. Ask your kid to find the spot in his body where he feels the most tension; perhaps his neck, shoulder muscles, or jaw. He then closes his eyes, concentrates on the spot, tensing it up for three or four seconds, and then lets it go. While doing so, tell him to imagine the worry slowly melting away. Yoga or deep breathing exercises seem to be helpful for girls.

• Visualize a calm place. Ask your kid to think of an actual place he’s been where he feels peaceful. For instance: the beach, his bed, grandpa’s backyard, a tree house. When anxiety kicks in, tell him to close his eyes, imagine that spot, while breathing slowly and letting the worry fly slowly away.

Final Thoughts

These are tough times for everyone — but especially for our kids. World events are unpredictable. Tragedies seem to be all the news. As much as we’d like to protect our children, unfortunately there are some things we can’t control. What we can do is help our children learn strategies to cope and those tools will build our children’s resilience to handle whatever comes their way.

  • Anxious kids are two to four times more likely to develop depression, and, as teens, are much more likely to become involved with substance abuse.
  • Anxiety symptoms are showing up in kids as young as three years.

If your child shows signs of anxiety for more than a few weeks or if you’re concerned, don’t wait. Seek professional help. Please.

Now take three slow deep breaths. What’s your first step to help your family?

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Thrivers Book CoverAcross the nation, student mental health is plummeting, major depression rates among teens and young adults are rising faster than among the overall population, and younger children are being impacted. As a teacher, educational consultant, and parent for 40 years, Dr. Michele Borba has never been more worried than she is about this current generation of kids. In THRIVERS, Dr. Borba explains why the old markers of accomplishment (grades, test scores) are no longer reliable predictors of success in the 21st century – and offers 7 teachable traits that will safeguard our kids for the future. She offers practical, actionable ways to develop these Character Strengths (confidence, empathy, self-control, integrity, curiosity, perseverance, and optimism) in children from preschool through high school, showing how to teach kids how to cope today so they can thrive tomorrow. THRIVERS is now available at amazon.com.

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