Coping with stress is an important life skill to have. Want 7 tips for managing one’s stressful life experiences in a mentally healthy manner? Read on… Know that one’s philosophical belief about how to cope, specifically our theory on entitlement and our parenting style impacts our children’s coping skill set. Thus, our philosophy matters in how our children learn to cope in their youth, and thus how they handle life’s challenges in the short term and in the long term when they too become adults.
Feeling Stressed Is Acceptable – Is Acting Out In Response To Stress Also Acceptable?
There was a time when “suck it up” or “pull it together”—the “there’s no crying in baseball” mentality—was the philosophy of life. It was essentially unacceptable to show one is feeling stressed; you just had to move forward. These days, kids not only know the word “stress,” but also they are socially and emotionally allowed to behave “stressed out”. Today it is acceptable for kids to acknowledge or admit that they are stressed and it is acceptable for them to be affected by their stress.
These days, kids experience great social, academic, and extra-curricular activity pressure, parental pressure to “be the best,” and just plain old self-pressure. Hence, why children feel stressed. Right? It is not as simple as that! If you go deeper than these basics and understand that kids are so much more in touch with their emotional feelings than kids used to be, that is a significant component in understanding why kids are feeling their stress. Although, feeling one’s stress is not the problem in and of itself. The problem as I see it is that far too many children are lacking in the skill to cope with their stress.
Too many children do not know how to cope with their stress due to an entitlement philosophy of not taking ownership of one’s feelings and one’s behaviors. This is the underlying reason behind why there are many children who do not know how to cope with their stress that I am spotlighting in this article today. The why and helping tips includes as follows:
- The Parents’ Role – Educating Children To Take Ownership
As a mental health and wellness professional, and a therapist for 20 years, I have seen the shift in the attitude of this generation of children. This generation is so far opposite the philosophy of taking ownership of their emotions, feelings, and actions. In addition, they are so distant from the “move forward” and “pull it together” philosophy—that they become overwhelmed by their stress and have become frozen. Far too many children lack the coping capacity with which to deal with their flood of emotions.
It is imperative that we help our children gain concrete coping methods to deal with their feelings. It is imperative that we help our children to take ownership of what they feel, and that we help them adapt, confront and resolve challenges. It is also imperative that we help our children learn solution-resolution skills.
Children are aware of their feelings, they need tools to manage their feelings. Those children who blame others rather than recognize and learn from their parents to take ownership of how they cope with life’s challenges and that you cannot change others, have a very difficult time coping with stress in a healthy way. How you handle life’s challenges and situations confronted with, along with the belief that you can only control yourself and not others, is an important life lesson. Those children who do not learn this have a hard time managing their stress reactive response effectively. Those children whose parents actively verbalize this message to them and consistently lead by example are typically able to manage their stress reaction well.
- Entitlement and Coping
Nothing comes to you in life automatically. Health, happiness, friends, strength, courage, being well-adjusted—none of these are guaranteed. Children must work hard, be motivated and make efforts to get what they want in life. Parents must teach this philosophy through words and actions, both in direct interaction with their children, and in how their children observe their own parents interact with others. In contrast, far too many children learn that when their parents are stressed out they give up instead of working hard for what they want (e.g., divorce vs. marital counseling, got laid off from work and choosing not to look for a job out of resentment and anger). Far too many children learn that when their parents are stressed they blame another and/or a situation for what they are feeling and how they are behaving. It is these adults of whom their philosophy carries over into their parenting philosophy. For an example, far too many children experience parents who blame others for their children’s inappropriate and disrespectful behavior, or brush the children’s behavior aside as acceptable. What are children to learn from this messaging? When children do not get what they want they feel stressed and do not know how to cope with their stress in a healthy and productive way. The reason is because many of them believe they deserve to have what they want, they are entitled to have what they want. The “keeping up with the Jones’s” philosophy and behavior has gotten out of control.
Nothing is promised to no-one, and that is an important message that too many children are not receiving!
Coping methods are helpful, and a must! Concrete tools to deal with one’s stress can effectively manage one’s reaction to stress. Without tools we feel overwhelmed. This generation of children for far too many believe there’s a quick fix (e.g., a magic pill) for everything, as that is often what they observe their parents philosophy to be. An anxious adult is more apt to pop a pill then implement self talk methods – children observe this. An adult comes home from work and says they “need” a glass of wine. The children then see the shift from stressed out parent to calm parent. The children learn the magic pill in this case is wine (a non prescription drug). In other circumstances children observe that it is a prescription drug the parent takes. Parents must change this mentality/philosophical belief if their children are to feel self empowered and thus mentally strong, emotionally capable, and develop into independent vs. dependent adults.
Children of parents who help them take ownership of their own behavior and teach them strategies for self-growth will be children who are less stressed as they take charge of their emotional wellness. Conversely, children who learn from their parents not to deal with stress and instead conflict avoid, blame others, want the quick fix, and/or are so focused on the attitude that they deserve to be happy (AKA the belief of; I am entitled), will not do well with stress management.
- How to Manage Stress
Help yourselves as parents and teach your children to better manage stress with the following tips:
- Acknowledge your stress triggers.
- Understand the “beaker full” concept. Each time a stress theme pops up (e.g., friendships, school work, money, divorce, siblings) it fills your beaker under that particular stress topic header. Without effective coping, the beaker fills up over time to where it overflows and can result in anxiety, where you feel overwhelmed, stuck or frozen.
- Tell yourself that you can manage your stress themes (AKA positive self talk). You cannot control when and how your stress triggers will appear, but you can control your reaction to those stress themes.
- Be mindful of a healthy reactive response to your stress that; a) confronts your feelings about your stress factor and b) decides what steps to take to deal with the stress rather than ignoring it and rather than becoming immobilized.
- Embrace the philosophy that it is up to you to take ownership of your reaction to stress, how to cope, and how to move forward. Believing that you are entitled to have things be easier for you or that you deserve to have another do things for you just keeps you feeling dependent and thus more anxious.
- List what steps you can take today to manage your stress and achieve your personal, relational, and professional goals. For example, if you do not have a job and you are worried about money, decide that today you will work on a personalized cover letter and resume, tomorrow you will send out at least five, and follow up on the ones you sent out earlier in the week. When you are stressed, be mindful of your negative self-statements (e.g., “I will never find a job” or “I can’t take that job cause it is not enough to pay my bills and I deserve a better job”) and substitute with positive self-empowering and self-ownership statements (e.g., “I will find a job, and I will work hard to find one”, “Whatever a job pays is okay, because that is my foot in the door. Once I am working for a company they will see how great I am and I will go up the ladder.”).
- Be mindful each day of living a healthy life that includes; a) positive self-talk, b) belief in yourself, c) ownership of moving forward, d) passion and motivation—don’t give up, each day is an opportunity, e) healthy outlets e.g., basketball, music, reading, and f) connecting with other people who are healthy.
- Mind-Body Interconnection
The mind and the body are interconnected, and stress impacts one’s emotional, personal, relational mental wellness as well as one’s physical wellness. It is never surprising when a client meets with me and tells me he has headaches, stomachaches or backaches. It is not uncommon for a younger child to report bed wetting when they are well past that physical stage of development. Once we discuss the importance of taking ownership of what a child can do to effectively manage his stress, to shift his self-statements from negative to positive ones, and to move from inaction to action—one to three steps per day that are relevant to his particular stress and to his goal—the physical ailments quickly cease to exist. Parents who team up with their children are those children who are most successful.
It is never too late to shift from non-ownership to ownership of one’s mental health and wellness, which results in mental and physical health and wellness.
This generation is very much about filling one’s impulsive needs quickly and often immediately (e.g., texting, emailing), which can result in stress when not fulfilled as planned. Well, life is not that. Our culture of entitlement and a lack of taking ownership is affecting us as adults and our children’s ability to cope and adapt with life’s challenges. As a psychotherapist I am concerned about the mental health and wellness of our culture. Life is a journey and challenges must be processed and worked through methodically, not always with the rapid speed of a text-like trigger by pill popping, nor blaming of others. Taking ownership and working hard for one’s wellness is the key to wellness and stress reaction management.