If there’s anything we are really good at it’s creating and being stressed. We can be a poster child for burning the candle at both ends, and sometimes in the middle. We are not alone in this. With our stress load, we can get together and create a burnt-out anonymous group! As we enter the holiday season many of us see stress in the tasks that need to be completed, and more stress around trying to prepare it all. Oh look over there it’s stress-mas!
The holidays aren’t the only stressful times we will face in your lives. If you have kids stress is a way of life. It’s easy to focus on your stress and trying to survive it, but have you given much thought to preparing for stress?
We wrongly assume that if we are prepared we won’t have any stress in a disaster situation. You have cleaning supplies, but that doesn’t make the muddy kid footprints on your carpet right before visitors any less stressful. There will be stress regardless of how well stocked your 72-hour kit is, or how thorough your emergency plans. More importantly, your kids will be just as stressed as you are.
Emotional preparedness for kids starts with the parents and the other adults in their lives. Our kids take their cues from us, this is why the saying “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” is true. Now is the time to develop strategies for handling stress in your kids, both in your day to day lives and for disaster situations.
What does stress look like?
Think you are doing ok with how you are currently managing stress? We all do. But many of the symptoms of stress can be blamed on parenting, or lack of sleep, or digestive problems. Being able to recognize when you need extra emotional support or added stress relief is necessary to manage our own mental and physical health.
Signs of Stress in adults
- Increased irritability, anger
- Exhaustion or lack of energy
- Sadness, apathetic
- Loss of concentration
- Easily startled or more fearful
- Emotional and social withdrawal
- Stomach aches, headaches
- Sleep disturbances
- Loss of appetite
- Overly emotional
- Lower immunity = more sicknesses
Kids have their own set of symptoms for stress. You may recognize some of them before the first day of school, before a big test, or during times of bullying and social stress at school. Symptoms of stress in children will include:
- Regression: thumb sucking, bedwetting, accidents
- Clinginess and separation anxiety
- Acting out
- Problems at school
- Increase in tantrums and meltdowns
Being able to recognize these signs will help you better understand their needs and how best to meet them. You will be a more supportive parent. Many manifestations of stress for young kids and preschoolers can be misunderstood as bad behavior. Being able to recognize these signs for what they are made a huge difference while my husband was deployed.
Prepare for Stress Do’s and Don’t’s
The irony of stress relief is that if you don’t have these strategies as a normal part of your life now, then it can create more stress when you are trying to implement them as you need them. If you can remember, or force yourself to make time for these tips.
Some of these tips will take practice to master so you can use them effectively. Remember, they are most effective as a HABIT! Kids need strategies for how to effectively handle stress. Not only will they experience massive adult sized stressors in a disaster, but they will eventually enter adulthood aka
Not only will they experience massive adult sized stressors in a disaster, but they will eventually enter adulthood. Learning how to manage stress now will greatly bless them as they enter an increasingly fast paced and stress filled world.
- Talk about it!
- Recognize your feelings as normal
- Spend time with your support network: friends and family
- Eat healthy, drink lots of water, exercise
- Get enough sleep
- Do something you enjoy, something that makes you happy
- Breathe, meditate, pray
- Focus on one thing at a time
- Give service
- Ask for help
- Establish a schedule and routines
- Look for the positive
- Use nicotine or smoke
- Use excessive caffeine
- Use drugs and alcohol
- Watch or ruminate on current events- limit media exposure
- Make major decisions immediately
- Beat yourself up, be patient with yourself, your situation, and with others
Resources for learning to prepare for stress
There is great information that will enable us as parents to help our kids and be better advocates for them in the case of a disaster. This is the area of preparedness that most parents know little or nothing about, yet we will be the first responders when it happens. With our children’s future and emotional well-being at stake, we can’t afford to wait until help comes along. It is up to us to educate ourselves, our families, and our communities. Here are some great resources for learning more about how to help your children and yourself cope with the trauma of a disaster. Our goal is to be survivors, not victims.
Helping Children Cope With Disaster – a FEMA Pamphlet
The National Association of School Psychologists website lots of links for coping with stress during a disaster.
- Helping Children After a Natural Disaster: Information for Parents and Teachers
- Responding to Natural Disasters: Helping Children and families – Information for school crisis teams
- Coping with Crisis – Helping Children with special Needs
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network website has great information to help kids cope with traumatic situations. The information is divided into subcategories of floods, earthquakes, epidemics, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis. Choose the disasters for your area.
The American Academy of Pediatrics website has information for parents to help children cope with natural disasters
The Trauma Pages site contains almost all of the disaster-related links and materials available. Here, you’ll find mental health handouts as well as links to external disaster websites, disaster mental health guides, and other informative materials useful in assisting disaster victims. It has some very impressive lists.
- Steps you can take to cope successfully with stressful situations
- Family coping strategies
- Emotional Health Issues for Victims
AACAP has created the facts for families pages. Search each sheet at the bottom of the site for more information.
- Helping children after a disaster
- Talking to children about terrorism and war
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- The Depressed Child
- Children and Grief
You need to understand the effects of stress and how to manage it, both for yourself and for your kids. Prepare for stress, it’s the key ingredient to resilience. And isn’t that the goal, the most vital preparation we can make?
What techniques have helped you and your family?
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