Whether you're talking about it with them or not, your kids are thinking about the headlines they see and hear about in the news. Many of them worry about the news, because it seems scary or it feels like something they can't control. I witnessed this firsthand with my 6-year-old daughter during the Gulf oil spill crisis. Through that experience, my wife and I learned some ways to help her cope with stress -- not just the stress she experienced as a result of the headlines, but also the everyday stress that kids feel, such as making friends and fitting in.
Last spring, we were watching the news about the oil spill. My daughter had just learned about the oceans in her first-grade class, and she knew that what happened in the Gulf could impact all of the oceans. This worried her, because she had learned that life on Earth relied heavily on those bodies of water. She didn't say much to her mom or me, but she was worried. A few days later, she drew a picture of the Earth and told me that she wanted to make copies, which she would sell to raise money to help clean up the spill, in addition to assisting other charities and her school. She also wanted to invite her friends to do the same; together, they all could help. (Think: lemonade stand-meets-art gallery.)
Our daughter's reaction to the stress she was feeling was positive and constructive. However, that's not always the case, particularly when she's dealing with the everyday concerns of being a kid. So, we wanted to harness the positive reaction and develop a method for helping her deal with those common concerns -- before they become stressful events.
Through our daughter's experience, we learned that if we create ways for her to contribute to the solution, she'll feel more in control of the issue that concerns her. With that sense of control, she'll feel more connected to the outcome, which helps to build her self-confidence when dealing with future issues.
When the next stressful situation occurs with your children, try following these simple steps to bring about a positive path to resolution:
- Talk about the issue. Ask your child what's bothering him. Help him to feel safe in the conversation by letting him talk to you without judgment or interruption. Kids tend to shut down when we don't let them speak.
- Have them help you solve the problem. As parents, we tend to want to solve the issue for our children with little input from them. Allow your child to contribute ideas, and try to incorporate those ideas -- or the spirit of those ideas -- in the solution. (You might be surprised by their input.)
- Show them how they helped to solve the problem. After implementing the solution, recap what happened, highlighting their role in the resolution. In other words, show them how they contributed, had control and were connected to the outcome.
By following these simple steps, we've found that we're able to help our kids find solutions to their worries before their concerns become overwhelming sources of stress.
About Friendly Neighborhood Helpers
The above situation inspired our family to start a charity called Friendly Neighborhood Helpers. At Friendly Neighborhood Helpers, a student (K-12) uploads artwork to the site, where people can purchase it in a variety of mediums (shirts, mugs, stickers, framed art, etc.). All of the proceeds are then divided among the student's school and a charity selected by the student.