From the book Yoga Makes Me Feel by Yael Calhoun, Illustrated by Svea Lunoe.  Click here to look at sample pages.  Click here to buy.

STRESS MANAGEMENT FOR KIDS

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What is stress?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

  A discussion of stress management for kids should begin with Hans Seyle, the researcher who brought the term stress into our vocabularies with his research done in the 1950s (1).  Stress, he said, was the inability of an organism to adjust to changes in the environment.  Even though it wasn’t discussed with regard to stress management for kids, we know that kids do in fact experience stress and that stress can have profound effects.

What causes kids stress?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Sources of stress for kids include:  school work, peer bullying, divorce, physical or mental handicaps or challenges, parental expectations, and social interactions.  Feeling a loss of control in any of these situations can also be a chronic source of stress.

What does stress do to the body?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Feeling stress isn’t all bad.  When we feel stress, our physiology kicks into alert mode and we pay more attention to things. For example – is this situation dangerous?  Our bodies go from a relaxed state to one in which we can either run away or fight so we don’t get hurt.  That stress reaction floods our bodies with stress hormones.  The problem is when we stay in that stress mode for too long.  Our bodies were not designed to always be on high alert.  It is like using up all our survival resources too quickly without any time to recharge the troops.  Heightened stress wears down the immune system and affects diges tion, circulation, and even the skeletal system in all ages.  There are scientists who offer that it also affects the way our neurons in our brain fire, affecting how we perceive and react to situations.   

Why is teaching kids stress management important?                                                     

Giving kids tools to manage their stress should be a priority.  Without teaching kids stress management techniques that allow them to calm themselves, they may seek external sources of relief through self-medicating with electronic devices, alcohol, drugs, shopping, tobacco, or food.  And it’s a good idea to teach kids early, so when they get stressed, they know what to do.

Why is it that some kids, just like some adults, handle stress well and some just fold?                                                                                                                                                                       

That’s an interesting question that scientists continue to study.  It has to do with how each brain develops in response to environmental factors.  Stress management for kids is very important because some kids continue to experience stress even after the event has passed.   And some kids are in situations in which they feel out of control.  School issues, parents losing a job, or divorce are examples of such stressors.

Is it too late to help an already stressed child?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

The good news is that the brain is the most able to change and to learn new things in children.  It is, as science continues to show us, harder (but not impossible!) to teach an old dog new tricks (2).  So if the trick is stress management for kids, then start early in life.  There are two parts to stress management for kids.

  1.  Just as with adults, kids benefit from learning how to recognize when they are feeling stressed.  That means being aware of when you feel the signs of stress: short, quick breaths, the beginning of a headache, or perhaps tightness in the upper back and neck.
  2. The second part of that is learning to help yourself reduce the stress.  It is easier to lower stress levels if you can catch it early,  that is before it grows into high anxiety or panic. 

But it is still possible – we can all learn to manage stress better, at any age!

What is one simple and easy approach for stress management for kids?                                                                                                                                                                                                       Research has shown that people can change how they do things if they are paying attention and if they feel a sense of control (2).  Simple yoga breathing and stretching exercises is one tool to offer to kids and to the adults who work with them.   

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GreenTREE Yoga Family Yoga.  photo by Salt Lake Tribune

(1)    The Stress of Life by Hans Seyle.  1956.  Revised edition, 1984. McGraw Hill

(2)    Train Your Mind Change Your Brain by Sharon Begley.  2007.  Ballentine Books.

 

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When the Body Says No: Exploring the Stress Disease Connection by Gabor Matte, MD (click cover) Wonderful and accessible insights into how our stress affects us, an important book for those working with children ~