Raising kids can stress out any parent. But when you think about it from a child’s perspective, growing up is an endless stream of potential stressors. Every time you read or go online, you’ll discover that life is infinitely complex. At the same time, your body is still growing and awkwardly adjusting to its many capabilities.
As adults, we’re accustomed to dealing with stress all the time. But due to the nature of experiences in adulthood, our view of stress can be excessively focused on the negative. Sure, kids will have to process a flood of information and explore many activities. But a lot of that stress can be good for them. How can you manage their environment and get the balance right?
Different kinds of stress
Imagine kids playing noisily in their yard. Then add some contractors working on the house. Finally, picture Mom or Dad getting into an argument in the background. Each of those layers of noise creates stress of a different kind.
When they play, kids can be quite loud. But they’re having fun, and they are learning. This is called ‘eustress’ or good stress. Having residential roofing services working around your home can be noisy, but it’s a tolerable (and necessary) sort of disruption. Kids can learn to strengthen their concentration and tune out that kind of stress.
What you can’t ignore, though, is the negative sort of stress. Like the example of a family argument or the dread of getting low scores on an exam. Children can’t just attempt to ignore those stressors. And without your help, they might experience adverse effects in the long term.
The good news is that you can exercise control over the various kinds of stress your child will have to face as they grow up. Also, your influence can help shape their attitude towards stress.
At its best, eustress is a result of short-term exposure to stimuli. It places children in situations where they have the opportunity to grow. Encourage your child to face challenges within a controlled setting. Learning to swim by your side in the children’s pool, or attempting to ride a bike with training wheels, are situations where they can face eustress and benefit.
Not all eustress has to require physical exertion. Practicing art or music can convince them that regardless of talent, they can improve and succeed if they have the right mindset. Getting your child to speak in public or interact with other kids will help them overcome shyness.
Teach your children to have a growth mindset and associate success with progress rather than results. A practice such as writing in a journal can help them develop the skill of framing experiences in a positive light. And always look for opportunities to give them a little push outside their comfort zone.
In many ways, though, the challenge is knowing how far that comfort zone extends. Where does it end, and where does the zone of panic begin?
The common factor that helps us all improve our stress tolerance is support. Support can come from within; if a child has previously experienced similar situations, they can back themselves to handle the challenge. But when facing something completely new, they have to rely on your support.
Some parental hand-holding is not only to be expected as your kids grow; it’s downright necessary. Don’t think about their comfort zone at first, because everything will be new to them. Later on, as you let go a little, be guided by your knowledge of what they’ve already conquered. And always let them know that you’re nearby to help out.
Controlling the negative
The opposite of eustress has a far more familiar term: distress. We’ve all been through situations that caused us to feel distressed. But our memories are selective; they prune away a lot of our experiences, particularly in childhood.
Reducing the risk of distress starts with the home environment. Avoid focusing on the negative consequences of stressors. Be brief about what to do, and focus on positive opportunities. And be sure to model the way in terms of how you deal with your own stress. Your child needs to know that they are in a safe, stable environment and that they can open up to you about their problems.
From an adult’s perspective, it can be easy to overlook some situations that could place your child in distress. You can make a huge difference by actively controlling their environment and filtering out negative stressors. Still, you have to be on the lookout for signs of distress. Never treat them trivially. Listen to your child, build up their confidence, and help them take positive action to deal with these situations.