Coping with Stress
Children often become angry or anxious when dealing with stress. The following strategies may help parents recognize the signs of distress and assist their children in managing feelings appropriately.
- Most children display some subtle warning signs when they become anxious or angry. Such warning signs may include: tensing the muscles, reddening of the face, fidgeting or biting nails, grimacing, or changing tone of voice. Becoming aware of these warning signs and attempting to intervene before the child becomes distressed may assist parents and teachers in dealing with children’s disruptive behaviors.
- When a child’s parents and teachers notice the warning signs described above, the following strategies may help:
- Establish a “home base”, a quiet place where the child can go to calm down in times of stress in order to avoid a meltdown.
- If you already feel a meltdown approaching, stand near the child, but not directly in front of him/her, as this may seem confrontational.
- Redirect the child’s attention away from the current task and attempt to engage him/her in an alternate activity.
- Acknowledge that the child is upset and that the situation is difficult.
- Deliver a clear statement of choices. Here is a 3-step approach for making requests:
1. Give the child two clear choices with clear consequences. Order the choices so that the child hears the preferred choice last (e.g., “You can refuse to take your dishes to the sink and go to time-out or you can take your dishes to the sink now and not go to time-out”). Make sure, above all, that you can enforce any consequences that you present.
2. If the child fails to comply in a reasonable amount of time to Step 1, state clearly and firmly what you want him/her to do. Include a time limit for compliance and specify a location if necessary. For example, a parent may tell the child, “I want you to go back to the table [location] now [time-frame] and carry your plate to the sink [requested behavior].”
3. When the child makes the positive choice, pair verbal praise with a reinforcer (such as a hug, sticker, or high five) and congratulate him/her on making the right choice for him/herself. If the child still fails to comply with your request, enforce alternative consequences that you have selected in advance.
Of course, you can always feel free to mix and match these strategies as you feel comfortable. You may find that one or two of these simple adjustments is enough to ease your child’s stress and avoid a meltdown.