Parenting Tips: Decrease School Stress
By Marianne Disipio-Vitale
In this second part of our 4-issue feature, parents will be presented with an example on how to connect their child’s physical symptoms to stressful events. Parents will also see the benefit of honouring their child’s feelings, regardless of their own interpretation of the situation.
Bringing awareness to physical symptoms
Children benefit greatly from learning to connect their feelings to physical sensations from a very young age. Getting in the habit of doing this can develop the ability to recognize growing fear and manage it before it gets overwhelming.
Child: Mommy, I can’t go to school today, because I have a sore tummy. I think I’m sick.
Parent: Well that doesn’t sound good. I noticed that it really bothered you when you told me that Jane made fun of you yesterday because you couldn’t do the monkey bars. Are you still thinking about that?
Child: Yes. It really hurt my feelings, and now I don’t want to go to recess. I’m scared I won’t have anyone to play with because everyone in my class plays on the monkey bars.
Parent: When you think about this, how does your body feel?
Child: It feels like a knot in my tummy.
Parent: I think that your tummy is telling you that you are still quite worried about recess. I bet it would help if we talked about it. What do you think?
Avoid dismissing feelings
It is important to remind ourselves, that what seems like a trivial problem to us, may be very upsetting and disruptive to our children. Acknowledging our child’s feelings, and validating their concerns, shows respect.
Child: Dad, I’m the shortest boy in the class. It bothers me. I feel ugly, and weak.
Parent: Feeling ugly and weak can be really difficult to deal with at your age. You must be going through a hard time.
Child: Yeah, like the worst.
Parent: I’m sorry to hear that. Tell me about what makes you feel ugly and weak?
Child: Well, I don’t know. No girl would look at a small guy like me, and Sally is even better at push-ups.
Parent: I can see your point and how that could be embarrassing. It is normal that kids at this age grow at different rates. But I understand that it’s not an easy thing.
Child: You have no idea dad.
Parent: Well actually I do. I was the shortest in my class until high school.
Child: Really? Did you hate it?
Parent: It bothered me a bit. I stuck to doing things I knew I did really well, and even better than some people. Made me feel better, and gave me an outlet for my feelings. Is there anything you feel you can do well?
Child: Not really. I’m nothing but a pipsqueak.
Parent: What about your cartoon drawing? You can draw those Ninja characters really well. And you’re always doing it.
Child: I can draw a wicked Ninja actually.
Parent: I know! It’s not an easy time you’re going through right now, but it’s certainly going to change and evolve with time. You might never be tall, and it would help to find a way to accept yourself for now. If you need to talk about it more, I’m here.
Child: I know you are dad, but it still sucks.
Avoid simply smoothing things over with empty encouragement, as it can have the effect of dismissing what your child is feeling, and making their issues seem irrelevant or absurd. It also makes it more difficult for the child to truly explore the root of the problem, and navigate all types of emotions.
Example of what to avoid in the same situation:
Parent: Don’t be silly. You’re the handsomest, the smartest, and you’re awesome at drawing!
Child: But dad, you’re just saying that. I won’t be able to get a girlfriend if I’m this small. It’s so embarrassing.
Parent: I’m not tall and I found your mom! Stop thinking like that! It serves no purpose to be negative. You’re a great kid, and that’s all that counts. Now go and wash up for dinner.
In the next issue of Trifecta Magazine, we will explore how to help our children develop insight, as well as easy things to implement at home.