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Is Your Stress Harming Your Kids?

Money worries, job demands, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have us stressed to the max… and it’s taking a toll on our kids. A 2010 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that children who said their parents were stressed said they were stressed too. They reported feeling sad, worried or frustrated – and their parents had no idea, according to the survey. As of 2022, according to the APA: children’s mental health is in crisis.

Stress is bad for your well-being, but it puts kids at risk too. Numerous studies show that chronic tension is damaging to children’s mental, physical and oral health. “Our children pick up our feelings and concerns. When we’re stressed, it makes them worry. And when we’re calm, they feel more secure and content,” says educational psychologist Michelle Borba, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries.

Here, a few research-proven and expert-recommended tips to ID stress effects in your kids, reduce their anxiety, and keep your own tension in check.

Spot the stress signs. Since most kids can’t just come out and say, “I’m stressed!” the APA advises watching for these red flags:

  • Acting irritable or moody
  • Withdrawing from favorite activities
  • Expressing concerns
  • Complaining more than usual
  • Crying
  • Clinging to a parent or teacher
  • Sleeping or eating too much or too little
  • Experiencing stomachaches and headaches, which can be a side-effect of stress

Give them some control. Giving kids choices and a sense of control over a situation helps them deal with stress better, according to The National Institutes of Health. Give them a heads-up on any changes or decisions that might affect them, so they can process the information without feeling blindsided.

Get physical, together. Exercise releases endorphins – your body’s natural stress-reducers. Go on a family hike, take a bike ride, or dance around the living room. And to keep your own stress at bay, start a regular exercise routine.

Avoid unnecessary stressors. Say no to extra responsibilities when your plate is already full. Skip movies, TV shows or news stories that make you tense. Bow out of social situations that are uncomfortable. And stay away from people, places and things that make you anxious or unhappy.

Be accepting. Can’t change a problem? Change yourself. By choosing to see the positive in a challenging situation (…Mr Rogers “look for the helpers“), stepping back to gain perspective, and abandoning perfectionism.

Cuddle up. When you feel your anxiety level rise, take a cuddle break. A simple back rub or a big hug can release your child’s tension — and help you relax in the process. Plus, a snuggle with your spouse can boost your heart health by lowering blood pressure, reducing stress hormones and releasing oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone,” according to a study conducted by The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Protect your time. Part of reducing stress is nurturing yourself so you’re better able to handle life’s zingers. Whether you like to garden, bake, read mysteries or hit the mall, set aside “you” time every day. And don’t forget to laugh! It helps your body beat stress – and it keeps your kids smiling too.

Even with ADHD, “Menditation” Helps Calm a Little Boy’s Mind

This is the story of a sweet little six year old, I see at a school to enhance executive function skills. He is rather energetic and would like to throw his body on the crash mat (an occupational therapy mat that is about 6×10 ft wide and 4 ft thick filled with beans or foam) two hours at a time. So we always begin with a heavy dose of running, jumping, side hopping and skipping, even though he’d rather we pretend we’re offensive lineman and just smash into one another.

After we’re all sweaty and I’m worn out, ‘cause just in case you’re not reading between the lines, nothing wears him out, he says “Let’s do menditation.” Yes, menditation, that’s not a typo. When he initially used the word, I jumped all over it, “That’s right Johnny we mend our mind and our body with menditation.” Oh my, he plops down, even though we’re on the cement right outside the backdoor at his school. Bam! “I menditate!” he exclaims.

What Johnny loves is rhythm in action. We do the same thing every time and if I skip a step I hear, “No, Dr. Lynne that’s not how we do it.”

We start by placing a small bouncing ball, the kind you find in the 50-cent machines at the grocery store, on our belly buttons. We breathe into our lower bellies until the ball rises or falls off. This teaches Johnny how to take deep diaphragmatic breaths.

There we remain laying down, close our eyes and breathe in our favorite color, we focus on the color as our thoughts fade away. I tell Johnny his body is falling gently into a pool of water or warm beach sand so that his shoulders fall, his hands open and relaxation wafts over him. He knows now not to speak, but in the beginning we would turn over a three-minute egg timer and choose not to speak until the sand has fallen through the timer. In the beginning he used to sit and watch the sand, that was a fine beginning. Your child may meditate by watching the sand time and time again, eventually he put the timer down, and close his eyes just like Johnny did. Three minutes of meditation might be as a still as a child with ADHD has ever been outside of sleep, so go with it, choose not to talk and just lay there breathing deeply.

When Johnny stirs or shows signs of being bored with the activity we sit up cross-legged and breathe out in a series of long “Ommm”s. This extends the period of relaxation while still providing the child with enough novelty to feel stimulated. After a few “Ommm”s, we stand and drop into a downward dog pose. We slowly rise, salute the sun with our hands over head, our hands fall gently to our sides and we are done. The whole process takes about 15 minutes now, in the beginning four minutes was all Johnny could tolerate.

When Johnny’s brain and body have calmed we them work on our “brain skills” for the day. Sometimes we bounce a large beach ball back and forth each stating one step toward being a good listener, kind friend or attentive student. Whatever the skill, engaging the cerebellum while we state the skill seems to help.

As an example:

Lynne: I choose not to talk.

Johnny: I choose to open my ears.

Lynne: I choose to look into the eyes of my teacher.

Johnny: I choose to watch her as she speaks.

Lynne: I think about the words she is saying.

Johnny: I ignore other noises.

Lynne: I keep my body still on my chair.

Johnny: I keep my hands folded on my desk.

Lynne: Now I am ready to do what my teacher asks.

Johnny: When I listen I learn.

There you have it. Boys can meditate, even boys with severe ADHD like Johnny. First we get out our energy. Then we meditate. Then we learn and even practice a skill.

The brain is a fabulous and miraculous organ. It is primed to learn and grow. All it needs from us as parents and teachers, is to maximize the opportunity. ADHD or not, meditation helps calm the brain and open opportunities for learning. Give it a try. If you also wish for music. Lori Lite’s mp3s can be found on itunes or at her site http://stressfreekids.com.

I am calmer now for writing this story. Hope you and your children will give meditation a try.

Mend, heal, learn.

5 Steps That Teach Your Kids to Stress Less

Being a kid means being carefree, right? Not necessarily. According to a survey by the American Psychological Association of 1,206 kids ages 8 to 17, one-third say they worry a help take away the stressgreat deal or a lot — and more than one-third report that they’re stressing more this year than last.

Why are kids so stressed? Dr. Caron Goode, author of Help Kids Cope with Stress and Trauma, says that the onslaught of media (television, radio, the Internet and mobile devices) in kids’ lives is a very real source of increased stress. Parents can shield kids from some adult stressors, like the evening news and violent TV programs, and should avoid over-scheduling their activities.

However, we can’t protect our children from every stressful situation that life throws at them.

No-one could have predicted a year of COVID, and just when we thought we were out of the woods and heading for a “normal” back-to-school, the Delta variant turned our kids’ worlds upside down again. Unpredictable and stressful – yes it has been, but debilitating – it doesn’t have to be. We can get our kids through this!! (editor’s note)

To do this, it’s important to teach them to recognize the signs of stress and learn how to react in a positive, healthy way — especially now, when they are starting a new school year and coping with the additional stresses of meeting teachers and fitting in with classmates. Goode offers these practical tips for helping your kids stress less:

1. Identify the root fear.

The first thing parents need to do is to sit down and listen to what kids are worrying about. Maybe it’s the fact that Dad is unemployed or that the latest fire on the West Coast or hurricane in the Gulf has hurt the environment.

  • Goode says that when kids express a general anxiety, it’s important for parents to help them identify it more specifically by rephrasing their concerns. Example: “It sounds like you’re worried that Dad lost his job.”
  • Then Goode suggests probing further to get to the root source of the fear. Example: “What worries you about Dad not working?” (Perhaps it’s not having enough money for those new jeans.)
  • Lastly, channel the child’s concerns into a positive, affirmative action to help dissipate their feelings of helplessness. Example: “Let’s come up with a plan for you to earn some money doing chores, so you can save up for those jeans.”

2. Recognize the signs of stress.

Parents can help kids recognize the signs of stress in their own bodies so they can take steps to calm down. Signs of stress include:

  • Shortened breathing
  • Pounding heart
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling that “the walls are closing in”

3. Practice self-soothing techniques.

Goode suggests practicing the following techniques with your kids, so they’ll know how to do them on their own:

  • Hand on the heart. “Research shows that when placing a hand on the heart and imagining something calming like a beach, the heart will be calmer within five minutes,” says Goode. “Kids can easily bring down their anxiety levels using this technique.”
  • Deep breathing. This lowers blood pressure and heart rate, helping the body to relax. Goode says even just five deep breaths can help alleviate stress.
  • Blow away stress. Goode suggests telling children to close their eyes and imagine that their worry is a dark cloud hanging overhead. Tell the child to name the cloud, see the cloud, describe it, and then blow it away with a few deep breaths. This helps the child clear his mind.
  • Positive imagery. Tell your child to imagine sunshine in her heart. Describe a bright light that feels calm and peaceful. The child can hold onto the light and use it to zap worries later. This technique is especially helpful for children dealing with bullying or an illness, because it gives them a sense of control.

3. Blow off steam.

Getting regular exercise — even for just 15 minutes — can seriously reduce stress because it releases energy and endorphins. “When the body is in movement, there’s less inclination to focus on a negative mental stream,” says Goode.

4. Walk the dog.

Goode says that walking the family dog together can be one of the best ways to help a child stress less. “Children who walk a dog will usually talk things out with a parent if they walk together.” In addition, says Goode, stroking a pet has been shown to release oxytocin, the chemical responsible for bonding, which has a calming effect and reinforces closeness between a parent and child.

5. Connect with your kids.

Above all, Goode says, the antidote to stress is connection. “I believe this technology-driven generation is missing the face-to-face conversations and the family dinners where we talk things out,” she says. Make connecting with your kids a priority. Turn off the technology. Schedule a family game night or a Sunday outing. That’s the kind of connection that keeps kids grounded, even in the face of stress.

Mindful Meditation for Families – Calm the Chaos

One path toward shifting your thoughts, particularly your judgmental or negative thoughts is through sustained non-judgmental attention or meditation. Meditation is the experience of sustaining one’s focus on a thought, word, sensation or sound in order to calm the mind. Mindful meditation is the act of calming your mind and body through non-judgmental sustained attention.

If you are prone to rumination, negative thinking or catastrophizing, mindful meditation is a skill you may wish to explore. If you find that you are overwhelmed with work, life, people, finances, holidays or parenting cultivating a sense of peace and calm, developing more neutral thoughts, and appreciating what you have in the moment will likely help decrease your experience of stress. Health benefits abound for families.

Let’s say you are ready to feel better, to think more positively and to feel less distressed. Begin by simply adding ten minutes of mindful meditation to your day. You can do it in the morning right when you wake up, in the evening before you go to sleep or anytime you feel fidgety, anxious, overwhelmed, sad, angry or depressed. Meditation can take place anywhere, in the mall, in the swimming pool, or in your car. You need not “go somewhere” to meditate. Meditate where ever you are.

Start with your “Beginner’s Mind” allowing yourself to relax into the experience as though you have never been in this moment before.

  1. Sit in an upright position with your ribs aligned over your hips and your shoulders aligned over your ribs. (I prefer to lie down, you can as well, if you wish)
  2. Close your eyes to reduce distraction and breath.
  3. 1-2-3 in, 1-2-3 out, in through your nose out through your nose or mouth.
  4. Bring your focus into your breath, feel your breath moving in and out, see your breath, color your breath, feel your breath oxygenate your blood and feed the cells of your body.
  5. When your mind wanders in a relaxed manner, bring your focus back to your breath.
  6. Feel your body relax, experience your minds reflections.

For children who are restless, consider having them lay with a warm blanket or a heating pad. Often the warmth and containment in space help them relax. Music from Stressfreekids.com is also a great help. In fact, I use their stories and sounds in my office regularly.

After about fifteen minutes you may slowly open your eyes and note how you feel calm, refreshed and ready for what life has in store for you. Over time you may choose to extend your mindful moments. You may choose to meditate up to 45 minutes a day. You may choose to meditate or pay mindful attention when you grocery shop, pump gas, or talk with your neighbor. Feel the intimacy in your relationships grow as you give your conversational experiences with friends, your undivided mindful attention.

You may bring mindfulness into your parenting by increasing your undistracted, sustained attention with your children. Through mindfulness, you will naturally experience being more “present” with your children. You may lose your keys less often and even yell less, as your mindful experiences allow you to live more peacefully and non-judgmentally in the moment.

Peaceful moments to you.

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For books and resources you may choose to visit The UCLA Semel Institute and The UCSD Center for Mindfulness.

STOP! You’re Stressed, But Please Don’t Shake A Child

The day dawned at 6:00 a.m. with a diaper change and feeding. You were up several times through the night either changing, feeding or both. You are still trying to get used to having a newborn in the house- trying to get used to not sleeping through the night. A good solid night’s sleep sure would be welcomed. The first couple of weeks you were able to catch a nap in the afternoon and that helped. Lately though it seems the baby is crying most of the afternoon and evening. It is just after lunch and it is finally quiet- perhaps time for a few precious moments of sleep. God please just a few moments sleep. Your eyes close and sleep begins to take over.

The screaming starts from the crib next to you- startling you awake. God all I wanted was a little sleep- is that too much to ask. Yesterday she cried for four straight hours. She just could not be comforted- she just would not STOP. “I can’t go through this again today.” Desperation rises- so too does anger. With just a few steps you are at the crib…the screaming seems louder…you pick up your baby…the anger grows…the desperation…with tears streaming down your face… you would do anything to get the crying to stop…you cry out, stop…please stop…why won’t you stop crying.

Your anger, your fear and your tone are reflected in the baby. The crying gets worse, grows louder, more shrill. Barely aware of your actions you begin to shake your precious child.

STOP-Don’t Do It.

Shaken Baby Syndrome is the name given to a variety of signs, symptoms and behaviors. Shaking a crying child can lead to blindness, lethargy, permanent developmental disability, seizures and death. Shaking a baby is a crime. It may be inflicted by males or females though most often by males. All babies cry and understanding this is often helpful. That a baby cries does not equal bad parenting- not even unrelenting seemingly inconsolable crying. In the past such crying has been called colic. To many, colic sounds like a disease or an illness and the name does not lead to understanding. Now many are referring to this as the PURPLE period. The PURPLE period may begin at 2-3 weeks old and may last until 3 or 4 months of age.

PURPLE stands for:

P: Peak of Crying- again perhaps beginning at 2-3 weeks and lasting till age 3-4 months

U: Unexpected and you don’t know why

R: Resists Soothing

P: Pain like face- appearing as though they are in pain though they really are not

L: Long lasting- perhaps up to 5 hours in one day

E: May cry more in the late afternoon or early Evening.

Many hospitals are providing training to new parents on crying as well as methods to manage both the baby and the stress. They are also providing education about the dangers and hazards of shaking a baby. There are many ways to cope but when the stress and frustration get to the level where an injury may occur:

  • Take the baby to a grandparent or responsible neighbor. *Understandably during the COVID-19 quarantines this is more difficult, so…
  • Get away – walk out – even if it just outside the door. It is better to move out of earshot than it is to harm the child.
  • If you are a grandparent, friend or coworker of a new parent let them know you are willing to help or at least, that you are willing to listen. If you are a parent yourself- tell them you went though some pretty bad times- help them understand they are not alone. Look into hospitals that offer training and education on crying and shaken baby syndrome. Talk to your pediatrician, obstetrician or personal doctor.
  • Here are some additional things you can do to help you relax and get rid of your frustration and anger

Take action before tragedy strikes.

For more information please go to:

How to Recognize Anxiety and Help Your Anxious Child

Just like adults, children and young people feel worried and anxious at times.

But if your child’s anxiety is starting to affect their wellbeing, they may need some help to overcome it.

What makes children anxious?

Children tend to feel anxious about different things at different ages. Many of these worries are a normal part of growing up.

  • From about eight months to three years, for example, it’s very common for young children to have something called separation anxiety. They may become clingy and cry when separated from their parents or carers. This is a normal stage in children’s development and tends to ease off at around age two to three.
  • It’s also common for pre-school children to develop specific fears or phobias. Common fears in early childhood include animals, insects, storms, heights, water, blood, and the dark. These fears usually go away gradually on their own.

Throughout a child’s life there will be other times when they feel anxiety. Lots of children feel anxious when going to a new school, for example, or before tests and exams. Some children feel shy in social situations and may need support with this.

When is anxiety a problem for children?

Anxiety becomes a problem for children when it starts to get in the way of their day-to-day life.

“We all get anxious at times, but some children seem to live a life of anxiety, where it’s not short-term and it’s not just an occasional thing,” says Paul Stallard, Professor of Child and Family Mental Health at the University of Bath.

“For example, if you go into any school at exam time all the kids will be anxious but some may be so anxious that they don’t get into school that morning,” says Professor Stallard.

Severe anxiety like this can harm children’s mental and emotional wellbeing, affecting their self-esteem and confidence. They may become withdrawn and go to great lengths to avoid things or situations that make them feel anxious.

What are the signs of anxiety in children?

When young children feel anxious, they cannot always understand or express what they are feeling. You may notice that they:

  • become irritable, tearful or clingy
  • have difficulty sleeping
  • wake in the night
  • start wetting the bed
  • have bad dreams

In older children you may notice that they:

  • lack the confidence to try new things or seem unable to face simple, everyday challenges
  • find it hard to concentrate
  • have problems with sleeping or eating
  • are prone to angry outbursts
  • have negative thoughts going round and round their head, or keep thinking that bad things are going to happen
  • start avoiding everyday activities, such as seeing friends, going out in public or attending school

See more about the physical symptoms of anxiety.

Why is my child anxious?

Some children are more prone to worries and anxiety than others.

  • Children often find change difficult and may become anxious following a house move or when starting a new school.
  • Children who have had a distressing or traumatic experience, such as a car accident or house fire, may suffer with anxiety afterwards.
  • Family arguments and conflict can also leave children feeling insecure and anxious.
  • Teenagers are more likely to suffer with social anxiety than other age groups, avoiding social gatherings or making excuses to get out of them.

Read more about social anxiety.

How to help your anxious child

If a child is experiencing anxiety, there is plenty parents and carers (*caregivers) can do to help.

  • First and foremost, it’s important to talk to your child about their anxiety or worries. Reassure them and show them you understand how they feel.
  • If your child is old enough, it may help to explain what anxiety is and the physical effects it has on our bodies. It may be helpful to describe anxiety as being like a wave that builds up and then ebbs away again.

As well as talking to your child about their worries and anxieties, it’s important to help them find solutions, says Professor Stallard.

  • “The tendency is to say, if you’re worried about that sleepover, don’t go,” he says. “But what you’re doing is saying, if you get anxious about something, it means you can’t do it.
  • “It’s more helpful to say, ‘I hear that you’re worried about this. What can you do that’s going to help?’,” says Professor Stallard. “Focus on exploring solutions with your child, instead of just talking about all the things that could go wrong.”

Other ways to ease anxiety in children

  • Teach your child to recognise signs of anxiety in themselves and to ask for help when it strikes.
  • Children of all ages find routines reassuring so try to stick to regular daily routines where possible.
  • If your child is anxious because of distressing events, such as a bereavement or separation, see if you can find books or films that will help them understand their feelings.
  • If you know a change, such as a house move is coming up, prepare your child by talking to them about what is going to happen and why.
  • Try not to become anxious yourself or overprotective – rather than doing things for your child or helping them to avoid anxiety-provoking situations, encourage your child to find ways to manage them.
  • Practice simple relaxation techniques with your child, such as taking three deep, slow breaths, breathing in for a count of three and out for three. You’ll find more relaxation techniques for children on the Moodcafe website.
  • Distraction can be helpful for young children. For example, if they are anxious about going to nursery, play games on the way there, such as seeing who can spot the most red cars.
  • Turn an old tissue box into a “worry” box. Get your child to write down or draw their worries and post them into the box. Then you can sort through the box together at the end of the day or week.

When should we get help?

If your child’s anxiety is severe, persists and interferes with their everyday life, it’s a good idea to get some help.

  • A visit to your GP (doctor) is a good place to start. If your child’s anxiety is affecting their school life, it’s a good idea to talk to their school as well.
  • Parents and carers in the UK** can get help and advice around children’s mental health from Young Minds’ free parent helpline on 0808 802 5544 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am-4pm).

Read more about treating childhood anxiety.

Editor’s Note:

* Clarification Provided for our U.S. Readers

** Resources Outside the UK:

  • Child Mind Institute: an independent, US nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of children and families struggling with mental health and learning disorders
  • Association for Children’s Mental Health: ACMH provides information, support, resources, referral and advocacy for children and youth with mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders and their families.

NHS Choices logo


From www.nhs.uk

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