Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"Childhood stress vs. protection--the Ying/Yang of parenting

Emotion: Fear by Cayusa
Emotion: Fear, a photo by Cayusa on Flickr.
If we look at the structures that comprise the central "command center" of our emotions, we will see that that geographically they are all neighbors and that they seem to have opposite functions: to speed us up vs. slow us down, to heighten our sensitivity vs. block out extraneous stimuli, etc. So it is not hard to leap from understanding a system that, in an over-simplification, works like a see-saw, to see that when it is overloaded it does not know which way to "tip." The tipping point, so to speak, between balance and imbalance is a delicate one. When it is out of balance, that is what we commonly call stress.

With the nervous system in such close quarters, it is no wonder we can get "stressed out" so easily--almost daily--sometimes several times a day. And so, it comes as a wonder to me, as I sit in student support team and IEP meetings, etc., that stress is either not considered or is a severely marginalized factor in planning the least restrictive environment for children with learning issues.

Plain and simple: kids have stress, too! And just in case you are not sure where I am coming from, living at Disney World is not an option, and I am sure that, irrespective of cryogenics, Walt Disney is not coming back! The idealized image of universally happy children constantly smiling is just not true.

Michael Atma, a personal development trainer, author, and coach (How to Enjoy Stress Free Relationships and 11 other titles) addresses how both parents and teachers can become more attuned to what is normal anxiety and what is extraordinary and how to help children with both of these situations. He suggests that we: (condensed)

Tune into moods. Find out what is bothering a child, without taking sides but showing concern.

Watch the same TV show together. The harsh daily news show and images can be a major source of stress for children, particularly if they know or have a family member in the service.

Focus on the positive. You cannot shield your children from major life changes: death, moves, divorce, etc., but you can help them to find positive lessons in these situations and let them know that you all are "going to make it."

Lead by example. Children see you, and they model their responses from what they see. Let hem know when you are upset and then show them that you are strong enough to become proactive.

Instill confidence. Small children may need you to come to their defense, but older children need to learn to champion their own causes and to take responsibility and to own their own actions. This is the way they learn not to stress out over difficult situations and to problem-solve.

I wish to elaborate on instilling confidence. All too often I have seen parents literally "leap" to their children's "defense," irrespective of the circumstances. As their ever-ready defenders, this deprives children of the opportunity to learn how to defend themselves, to review their actions, or to just learn how their behaviors are received by others.

How can children learn to be their own advocates, an invaluable adult skill, if they do not have the chance to "practice" when they are young when the consequences are not life altering?

I have had parents request to "video tape" my working with other children so that their child will not be "fearful" of therapy. I have been told that due to their child's "level of sensitivity" that not correcting them and requesting that I only speaking in "positives" is the "preferred approach." These unrealistic emotional cushions do not prepare children for the real world. Confrontations, corrections, disagreements, etc., happen, resolutions are reached, and life goes on. As a parent, your job is to protect your child from harm; however, shielding them from life is detrimental.

It is important that children learn how to handle stressors preventively rather than in a reactionary way when in crisis mode. Knowing that can alleviate much stress and anxiety for both parent and child.

Families Reaching Professionals

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Susan N. Schriber Orloff, OTR/L, is the author of the book Learning RE-Enabled, a guide for parents, teachers, and therapists (and a National Education Association featured book, which can be found in the EP Bookstore at www.epbooktore.com), and the Handwriting on the Wall Program. Children's Special Services, LLC is the exclusive provider of P.O.P.[TM] Personal Options and Preferences[TM] social skills programs. She was the 2006 Georgia OT of the Year and is the CEO/executive director of Children's Special Services, LLC, which provides occupational therapy services for children with developmental and learning delays in Atlanta, GA. She can be reached through her Web site at www.childrens-services.com or at sorloffotr@aol.com.

Schriber, Susan N.

Source Citation
Schriber, Susan N. "Childhood stress vs. protection--the Ying/Yang of parenting." The Exceptional Parent July 2008: 48+. Psychology Collection. Web. 8 May 2012.
Document URL

Gale Document Number: GALE|A181571945

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