Children & Stress

stress boysJonathan, an independent worker, gets easily frustrated, struggles with change, tends to over-analyze, and operates with a lot of “What if…” scenarios. Richard, a very social person, procrastinates, rushes through work, sacrifices quality for completion, and struggles focusing.

At least, when overwhelmed or not managing stress well, these descriptions fit my boys aptly. But when they manage their stress and keep balanced, they are very productive and positive.

I often forget to consider my kids’ stress. They are “just kids” and seem to handle stress way better than I do, after all. But when I see the signs and do nothing, I miss out on a valuable parenting opportunity.

Biblical Parenting_scriptureSpecific Kid-Sources of Stress

Based on the lives of my two boys (age 15 & 13), both their own stress as well as what they describe as stress in their friends’ lives, the top areas of stress for kids include: School (grades, homework, tests, etc.); peer pressure; sports; parent pressures (chores, behavior, attitude, etc.); consequences of stupid choices; wanting to relax; thinking about the future; and divorced parents.

An Immediate Response

Realizing that most kids, and many adults for that matter, tend to react to stress without first thinking, a stress-management approach for kids must be sort of programmed into their brains (in the spirit of Deuteronomy 6:7). Keeping this in mind, I always ask them the following questions when they struggle with a stressful situation:

What can you do about it?
What can’t you do about it?
Who/what can you control/not control?
Who/what can you change/not change?

We also usually address the “fairness” issue, since kids often dwell here. They need to know that life isn’t always fair.

In addition to getting our boys to realize they can only control themselves and their reactions, we also try to provide stress-relieving activities or approaches for managing stress. Those include giving them a venue to talk out what’s on their minds and making sure they have enough physical activity and leisure time. We also make sure to have lots of family time as well as to provide structure that suits the child. And of course, consistency blankets all of these.

A Biblical ResponseTitus 2

Advice on teaching our kids anything lies incomplete and ineffective without integrating what Scripture says about  preventing, managing and eliminating stress for our kids. With that in mind, lets make a somewhat unique application of some very familiar parenting verses.

  1. Don’t exasperate & discourage them. (Colossians 3:21) So often, my kids’ stress comes from or is made worse by my own poor stress management.
  2. Give them skills to deal with their feelings. (Proverbs 1:8-9) Be available to listen & to talk.
  3. Teach them ways to relieve stress. (Proverbs 22:6) Include them in your own stress relievers when possible.
  4. Tell them why managing stress is important. (1 Peter 5:3) Use yourself as an example.
  5. Model positive stress management. (Titus 2:7-8) Make sure what you say matches what you do.

I want my kids to realize that stress is not always bad. In fact, we need stress to grow and thrive. Take the amoeba – the most basic of life forms – for example. Scientists introduced it into a completely stress-free environment in a petri dish. What happened? The amoeba died. But when placed in a “normal” environment with all its challenges, the amoeba multiplied and thrived.

The same happens, essentially, with us. Without stress, we fail to thrive and grow. Plus, a stress-free life isn’t possible anyway.

Doesn’t good parenting, then, involve teaching our kids how to prevent, manage and relieve stress? Aren’t we living out what Scripture says when we train our kids to handle the inevitable in life to allow them to truly be not only productive and positive but to do so in a way that honors God and points others to Him?

5 Ways to Make Distractions Positive

distraction-cartoonThoughts About Distractions

Distractions often get a bad rap for stealing focus and decreasing productivity. At least, in my mind they existed only as plagues to avoid. Until recently. While I still believe distractions can negatively impact, I also now see they can be powerful tools for managing stress and increasing productivity.

As a very focused (and sometimes intense) person, I viewed distractions as always evil. I needed to stay on task, cross every item off my “to do” list and not let anyone or anything keep me from accomplishing my tasks. Even worse, I imposed this “no distractions” approach on my two boys as well. As you might guess, this led to some struggles. (On the positive side, continually pushing away distractions led to my being able to read and write with the television on and people talking.)

What I have learned through my inner debate over distractions is that sometimes we need to be distracted. Sometimes, we need to let our focus on work and accomplishing go and to live in the moment with the ones we love. And sometimes, focus itself provides much-needed distractions from relationship stress.

5 Ways to Make Distractions PositiveDistractions

As with most areas of life, distractions must exist in a balanced state in order to have positive impact. Too many distractions, and little gets accomplished. On the other hand, constantly staying focused often leads to higher stress levels not only within an individual but within relationships as well.

Follow these tips for turning distractions into positive forces:

  1. Allow your kids to distract you. Never forget that you only have them for a season, and that season goes by so very quickly. In just six years, both my boys will graduate and move out. I don’t want to miss a minute of their lives. When they want to talk, I stop what I’m doing and listen. The posts I want to write and the books I want to read will wait. If they won’t for some reason, they’re worth giving up for the moments I get to spend with my kids.
  2. Make sure electronics don’t take over your family. My kids, like most their age, want to listen to music, text friends and play games on their various electronic devices. I like my devices too (though for slightly different reasons), but electronics don’t eat dinner with us or entertain us constantly in the car. In fact, the license plate game still serves as a favorite and everyone still looks forward to eating dinner together as a family.
  3. Distract yourself when emotions get out of control. When I get a bad report from school about my son’s behavior or when I’m just in a grumpy mood, writing a blog post or reading a book serve as great distractions and help keep me from nagging my boys and husband. When an idea just isn’t flowing right, going for a run provides ample distraction to get my creativity back on track instead of allowing frustration to send me into a tailspin, ruining my (and usually my family’s) day.
  4. Apply balance to your distractions. Too much mindless television leads to a host of unhealthy issues, but some mindless television can help you relax, which then allows you to refocus. Flipping between fiction and non-fiction books keeps me grounded in reality balanced with escape from it at the same time. Whenever possible, deliberately decide the type and amount of distracts impacting your life.
  5. Get distracted alone and with others. While personality and temperament impact needs, learning to allow for individual and group distractions creates stability. Family games and movie nights provide great ways to escape together while reading allows for alone time. Variety seems to help varying personalities in a family find their unique source of energy for staying focused.

Certainly, the ways to allow distractions to live as a positive force equal the ways they can exist as negative ones. The key, as with so many areas of life, involves intentionality and deliberateness.

DISCUSSION: If you allow distractions to dictate your day, what changes can you make to decrease them? On the other hand, if constant focus drives you, how can distractions possibly help your relationships?

Weekend Reflections – Making Memories

Up until this past weekend, my family and I have gone camping with other families when we go. This time, though, it was just the four of us. My boys were forced to redefine what camping meant to them. Before, camping meant spending time with friends generally their age. It meant more than being just with the people with whom they live and spend their daily lives.

When they found out this trip would be “just the four of us,” both boys seemed at a loss of what we would do to fill the time. In other words, they were certain it would be boring. When I saw their disappointment and the anticipation and excitement drain from their eyes, a determination rose up in me to show them how to choose to make a disappointing situation become a memorable experience.

Sugar

I don’t like it. I don’t eat much of it usually. Yet, so many of life’s pleasures have it. At some point, I simply came to terms with the idea that letting my kids have s’mores with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and chewy chocolate chip cookies wasn’t being a bad mom. It’s creating a memory that will span generations. Besides, it’s not like we have them for breakfast. (Okay, maybe cookies once, but that’s it.) The point is that having treats like this goes a long way in making the trip memorable for my family simply because it was special and not something they normally get.

Fire

Making popcorn over a campfire in a coffee can. Cooking almost all our meals over the fire. Watching things melt. Yes, we probably sometimes broke the rule to not play with fire, but at least it was contained. All campers are captivated by this element around which all campsites center. As we sat there at various times during the day and every evening, we constantly ended up“fanning the flames” of connection in our family in some way. (Check out 1 Timothy 1:3-7 for added emphasis on the importance of family connection.)We remembered a lot of fun times, we joked, we talked about when my husband and I were kids, and we even talked about books and movies. And at some point we got to words that might not have ever been said in the company of others or even at the dinner table at home. Family words spoken in the dark as we watched the fire.

Movement

We spent a lot of time just sitting and relaxing or reading, but a large part of this trip was about activity. Most of this activity necessitated family interaction. Corn hole. Bike rides. Walks. Swimming. We competed with each other, and we even trash talked some. Movement together as a family leads to compromise, conflict resolution, preferring and encouraging. At home, we can find separate corners of the house when irritations arise. While camping, there’s no real getting away from one another. Camping can promote much-needed interaction as a family, especially in the absence of electronics (which I highly recommend, by the way).

Disappointing to Memorable

Seems silly to bring sugar, fire and movement together in a post reflecting on my weekend, but as I think about this past weekend and what we did to create memories, I realize that these three elements really came together to allow us to be fully present as individuals in a family unit. They helped create an atmosphere that allowed each one of us to enjoy every moment together.

Which brings me full circle to turning disappointing into memorable. The elements that seem essential for that recipe include being fully present, doing something special, creating the right atmosphere, moving together and preferring one another. Sure, there are tons of ways to create memories as a family, but don’t they all really contain the same ingredients? What ingredients am I missing?

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