Parenting and Character expert Dr. Michele Borba tells us more about how even the most unpleasant emotions can be transformed into worthwhile wisdom that can stay with a child until adulthood
Frustration is a part of life, but it is not just adults who have to go through this. As early as childhood, we have to deal with overwhelming feelings, situations that upset us, or confusing times that cause anxiety. How can parents help kids manage negative emotions?
One key strategy is to equip kids with stress management techniques to help them grow into well-adjusted adults.
“We are, across the world, raising the most stressed out children on record,” Parenting and Character expert Dr. Michele Borba emphasized in an enligthening talk during the Unselfie Conference in Manila. “And when the stress builds you dial down your empathy. You dial it down because you’re in survival mode because you’ve got to help yourself. Let’s help children be mentally healthier, but also keep empathy open.”
She talks about the importance of empathy, which she believes is the value from which all good habits stem, in greater detail in her book, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World.
During her talk, she touched upon practical tips for parents and educators to help kids navigate through the frustrating parts of life and what they can learn from it.
1. Tune in to your child
“You’ll begin to see stress signs come before the anger, meltdown or temper tantrums,” says Dr. Borba, who is also a mom of three kids. “Starting at age 2, you can figure out a temper tantrum is approaching.”
Emotional literacy begins when a child feels that she is your focus. So, parents need to tune in and pay attention more. Set aside those gadgets and your overflowing to-do lists, and take time for what should be at the top of your list.
“The greatest gift you can give your child is your presence,” Dr. Borba stressed.
2. Keep track of stress patterns
“When is the stress most prevalent? What time or day?” Dr. Borba advises parents to ask themselves. “Stress is never every day. If you do this for a month and look back, you’ll see a pattern.”
You can’t take away the stressor, but you can help them manage if you know their triggers.
Some kids even exhibit physical symptoms: headaches, nausea or rapid breathing. You know your child best. Note what sets them off and how it manifests in their behavior.
3. Model self-awareness
Looking inwardly, identifying your own stressors can help you be an effective role model. Kids are comforted when they see that their parent knows what they are going through.
Dr. Borba’s tip is to ask your child what they observe your stressors—for instance, do your brows furrow when you’re upset?—to be to help them understand what their stressors are so they can tell themselves to calm down.
4. Dignify their feelings
Acknowledge their feelings of frustration, but don’t put them on the spot.
According to Dr. Borba, focusing on how to manage the feelings, instead of calling attention to it, is one good way kids can learn stress management techniques better.
5. Practice mindfulness
“According to neuroscience, finding a quiet place in your mind to go when frustrations are overwhelming can be of great help,” continues Dr. Borba.
Even a minute can help improve a child’s outlook for 24 hours. Even taking slow, deep breaths can work wonders at calming kids.
Dr. Borba happily reported that mindfulness helped improve kids grades as well as their behaviour in class in a school in Oakland, California.
Character building doesn’t just happen instantly, it is a series of habits taught consistently.
When it comes to stress management, children need to be self-aware, to know what their triggers are and to be able to acknowledge them and calm themselves down. It could be through breathing or holding on to an object that gives them comfort or whatever it takes to help them combat stress and anxiety.
The most important thing is the feeling of security, the constant reassurance that the beauty of their parent’s love will guide them through the ugliest of emotions.