But what we don’t get, is that being stressed actually gets in the way of healthy emotional and intellectual development. Chronic stress prevents optimum blood flow to the brain and gets the body into a fight-or-flight response. The more time young kids spend in that state, the more that becomes the baseline…and when they’re stressed, because the fight-or-flight response is our bodies’ historic way of helping us outrun or escape danger, it is impossible to be emotionally calm or to think clearly. We’re fed a lot of info about the need to succeed, and so we inadvertently put a lot of pressure on our kids to succeed…and that pressure can cause unnecessary stress. In fact, their long-term success (and health!) depends upon them being given the capacity to be resilient. It takes a full 21 years for the brain to be fully mature, and children develop at different rates, just like not every child walks on their first birthday! So stressing our kids about their achievements is counter-productive.
As a teacher of almost two decades, I see so many young people feeling burdened by the unrealistic expectations that well-intentioned moms and dads and teachers put on them. These kids develop anxiety, depression, feelings of low self-worth and self-destructive behaviors. If we do our bit to reduce the pressures they already face, by NOT putting so much pressure on them ourselves, we can help them immensely.
There are many ways of reducing stress in our families. An important one is our own behaviours and responses to our children’s behaviours. Also, teaching our kids how to get themselves into a state of high coherence (see www.heartmath.org) is really helpful in terms of assisting them to identify and modify a physiological stress-response. If we know that chronic stress gets in the way of healthy intellectual and emotional functioning, (as well as being a precursor to all kinds of negative things like anxiety, depression, and yes, heart disease), then we know we need to do all we can to prevent it. They (and we as parents!) can learn how to stop stress in its tracks and get our nervous systems back into order.
Tips for reducing stress in the family:
- Try not to lose it when your kids lose it. Maintain calm in the face of a storm. It may not fix everything but it won’t make things worse.
- Try not to over-react to things. The state of our nervous system impacts the state of our children’s.
- Try to fix things that are broken or heal hurts when they happen, rather than punish.
- Try not to put undue pressure on young kids about school. In my anecdotal research as a teacher, parental expectations and disappointment is a big stress.
- Remember that unconditional love is essential for healthy physical, emotional and intellectual growth. Hug your kids, play with them give them time. That will give them the best chance of being resilient, successful, stress-proof people!