Helping Children Cope with Stress
Clearly, children need adult assistance in working through both the normal stresses of development and the added complications of living in modern American society. Several good strategies are available to help children deal with stress (Elkind, 2001; McCracken, 1986):
- Be aware of the times we hurry children. This recognition is the first step in helping children deal with their stress.
- Analyze the distinctive effects of stress on each child. The temperament, age, developmental level, and individual child's perception of the stress all influence the impact of stress. Some children seem to have an incredible ability to manage seemingly overwhelming circumstances; others struggle unsuccessfully to deal with much lower levels of stress.
- Eliminate stressors whenever possible. This is easy to say and much harder to do. However, teachers, caregivers, and parents can work together to reduce stress by doing such things as making sure children eat right, get plenty of rest, slow down, have time to talk about issues and concerns, and avoid inappropriate television programming.
- Take time to have fun with kids. When teachers and caregivers get to know children better by occasionally eating lunch with them or playing a game for fun, relationships are strengthened and children are fortified to better deal with the next stress to come their way.
- Be respectful of children. Elkind (2001) suggests that showing respect is a simple, direct way to let children know that we value them. Just knowing that adults care is a support to children under stress.
- Encourage childhood play. Elkind states, "Basically, play is nature's way of dealing with stress for children as well as adults" (Elkind, 2001, p. 197). When children can repeatedly play out the issues they are struggling to understand, they can make sense of them and gradually be able to set them aside. From the serious problems of a disturbed child (Axline, 1964) to the more mundane struggles of young children everywhere, childhood play is one of the best techniques available to work through stress (Frost, Wortham, & Reifel, 2005).
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