Positive ways to handle stress
Moving to a new neighborhood.
Making new friends.
Starting a new class or moving to the next grade level.
Starting back to school after a pandemic.
A new brother or sister is born, parents separate and divorce, an older sibling goes away to college.
Children, like adults thrive on the security of routine and the familiar. Even when we know that change is coming, we often wait until the last minute to reconcile ourselves to the anticipated change.
Instead of adapting and preparing for the change…
We anticipate disaster.
We search for ways to avoid it.
We pretend that it isn’t happening.
How can we help children cope with the stress of change? Here are some tips:
Give the emotion a name
When emotions have a label it is much easier to understand and develop a means of coping with them. Names also help to normalize the feeling. Everyone can relate to feeling sad, frustrated or afraid at some time or another. Then suggest strategies to deal with the emotion.
Look for meaning
When an anticipated change is looming on the horizon, begin a discussion of the event early and help children look for meaning or learning opportunities in the change. This is more than just taking a positive attitude. Help children (and possibly yourself as well) consider the advantages of the change.
Will moving expand your horizons so that you get to experience new locations and traditions?
Will learning to get along and care for a younger sibling develop responsibility and social skills?
Will making new friends expand your knowledge of the diversity in the world?
Even negative events like divorce and loss can help children develop coping skills that will serve them later in life. For example, experiencing loss develops empathy for others when they encounter troubles. It can help children appreciate the value of relationships.
Ask the right question
Children and adults tend to ask the question, “Why me?” “Why did this have to happen?” when faced with change. However, there is a better question that we need to ask.
What if we instead ask ourselves, “What is the opportunity in this? What is to be learned?” Sometimes in the midst of discovering the answer to the second question we learn the answer to the first one.
Find the needed support
Children who are experiencing change cope best when given support and an opportunity to talk about the change. Support can come in a number of different ways. It might be a close friend or a family member. It might be someone who has traveled the path before and who now can encourage others. It might be a teacher or a coach. It could be a professional counselor or mentor. In any case, the hardest part of any stressful time is the feeling of being alone and you just might be the support that a child needs to weather the storm.
Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Friendship
It’s not easy being the new kid at school, especially if you are a cat and everyone else is a dog. How do you make friends? Can you even be friends with someone who is totally different from you? Wyatt the Wonder Dog helps solve Ami’s friendship problem with empathy and compassion. A great story for teaching children the critical life skill of making friends.
As a public school elementary counselor, Wyatt offers so much about making and keeping friends. I will use this book as a resource for whole classroom, small group and individual discussions, raising issues that affect real life situations.
~Cindy Little, School Counselor, Georgia Elementary School, Milton Vermont