What we know from stress research is that a little bit of stress is good for kids, it helps them learn how to react and manage it. A lot of stress, especially over a long period of time is not—it causes long-term problems both emotionally and physically. How long is too long—weeks, months, or years. Yes, it’s been weeks of stress for everyone—a bit too long to be helpful so it’s time to mitigate the stress.
The good news is that research also shows us that we can lessen the long-term negative impact of stress. One of the most important ways to help a child through stress (and ourselves) is through nurturing them. Nurturing buffers the stress, mitigating it’s negative effects and supporting the child to in tolerance and strength.
Nurturing means caring for someone, encouraging them, holding them, letting them know they are okay when they aren’t sure. During stressful times, kids aren’t sure if they are okay. They may not understand what’s happening around them or to them, how to handle the situation, even what to say or do. Nurturing children comes easy for some people, but it can be more challenging for others. This will depend on your own experiences with your parents, teachers, and others around you while you were growing up. If you are good at it, spread it around to as many kids as possible, they will need it. If you are challenged by the idea of nurturing a child, here are some suggestions.
- Listen to your child’s thoughts and feelings. Ask open-ended questions that begin with How or What? Repeat what they say back to them—this will help them feel heard.
- Spend good quality time with them—lots of extra time with them if they are really stressed. Check in with yourself to see how you are feeling. If you are very stressed too, then increase your self-care so you can be there for your kids.
- Give them lots of affection and touch; affectionate touch raises dopamine levels, calming our nervous system.
- Read to your children. This will also calm and settle down their nervous systems, as well as teaching them something along the way.
- Give your child an opportunity to write or draw about their feelings. The Imagine Project Journals are a perfect format for this. Research has shown that expressive writing calms anxiety. The Imagine Project is a simple 7-step guided writing process for all ages K-12 (and adults) that uses the word Imagine to begin every sentence. Helping a child to process their stress and then move into Imagining something new in their lives. Learn more about this process at theimagineproject.org, they are free!
Creating a stable nurturing environment for kids will really help everyone in managing stress. Try adding more of these 5 steps into your day, at least during stressful times—and even keeping them during less stressful times. Download the journals today and begin the beautiful journey of healing and moving forward (for everyone).
Good luck and take care,
Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN