Helping Kids Cope with Stress
by Dr. Erik Fisher, Ph.D. View Bio and Talia Filippelli View Bio
Leading Emotional Dynamics expert, Erik Fisher, Ph.D., aka Dr. E…, has been changing the lives of children, teens and adults for two decades. As a psychologist, media consultant and author, his unique and creative approach to his work has earned him the respect and accolades of his clientele, his colleagues, and the media. On the radio, he has been providing interviews for more than 15 years on stations across North America and has been interviewed for countless print articles in magazines, from Parents to Cosmopolitan, and newspapers across the country from The Atlanta Constitution to the Chicago Tribune the the L.A. Times. Dr. E… has two published books, The Art of Empowered Parenting: The Manual You Wish Your Kids Came With and The Art of Managing Everyday Conflict: Understanding Emotions and Power Struggles and proposals for three book concepts. As he says, "Life happens for us, not to us, and understanding that is the key to our own empowerment."
Talia is the owner and founder of Starr Therapy in Hoboken, New Jersey. She is known for her solution-focused therapy approach and fearless mission to make seeing a therapist something that people brag about! She has been featured as a mental health expert on CBS and CNN, and was voted a "Top Kids Doc" by NJ Family Magazine for the past 8 years. She is also a Certified Holistic Health Coach and Certified Personal Trainer. To find out more information, check out www.StarrTherapy.com.
Change can be difficult, but big changes can also be great teaching moments. Here’s a few ways parents can help kids work through new challenges in a positive way.
- Reward kids upfront, before they put in the work. Doing so will help teach them about honoring their commitments.
- Take “brain breaks” to punctuate serious time with joy and laughter. Children will benefit from them and can often work a little longer with greater focus when they’ve had a chance to be silly.
- Instead of looking at the current situation as “What's happening to me?” or “How's this going to negatively impact me?”, consider asking “How can this be something that can help me and/or our family grow?"
- Frame issues as a challenge. Challenges have an implied meaning that we can do something to work through it, even if we don’t know how long it may take. Embracing this mindset will dictate how we all cope.
Many of us are creatures of habit, whether it’s frequenting the same coffee shop on our way to work or dropping the kids off at soccer or dance practice before a weekly family pizza night. Everyone handles change differently, and some are better at it than others. For kids who have never experienced a lot of change to their routine, it can be even more stressful.
Emotional Dynamics expert, Dr. Erik Fisher, Ph.D. and Talia Filippelli, Psychotherapist and Founder of Starr Therapy offer some advice on how to help kids manage stress during times of uncertainty through play.
Setting the mood.
Dr. Erik Fischer: The mood of the parents is often communicated to the kids. In these situations, the ability for parents to adapt is also good for the kids. Where are they putting their priorities? Are they aware of what they're feeling? A lot of times, parents will internalize their own stress because they feel like they must be strong. Then they get grumpy and short-tempered, they're living with fear, and they're transferring that to their kids in different ways. Parents should also look at the temperament of their kids. Are they easy to adapt? Are they slow to warm up? Understanding a child's temperament is critical, because how his/her temperament is may change the way you approach it.
Play out your feelings.
Talia Filippelli: Family dinner is a great time to ask everyone, ‘What did we learn today?’ A go-to game can be 3 ups, 1 down, and 1 cheer. Each person in the family takes a turn saying three positive things about the day, one negative thing about the day, and they name one person they want to ‘cheer’ who did something positive for them that day. Conversations like this are well-balanced because they give children permission to celebrate the good and acknowledge the bad, without getting too overly consumed in either mindset. There is a major opportunity during COVID-19 to seize moments like this to teach and grow a stronger, more resilient mindset in our children. They will undoubtedly need these important life skills anyway, so why not use our current circumstances to start building them? This daily practice is how we will teach our kids how to get through tough times without “going down the rabbit hole” and instead help them become more resilient.
Dr. Erik Fisher: When I play chess, I talk about the way we approach life, and I talk about chess as a team sport. I even add in history lessons about the way they used to fight wars and why the pieces do what they do. As a parent, you can often get the most information out of kids by playing a game with them. As we're playing a game, I'll ask a question such as, "How do you feel about this?" Because they're so focused on the game, they'll often easily open up and might even slide in something important like, "I had a really weird dream last night about…” Kids who don't communicate sometimes have a whole different perception of the world going on inside their heads that they don't talk about much.
Create structure, then simply create.
Talia Filippelli: One of the first, and most fundamental things families can do to manage stress effectively during COVID-19 is to define their new normal. This means re-creating everyone’s daily schedule to include school/work time, exercise, fresh air, fun, and rest. Try to adhere to the same structure every weekday, Monday through Friday, so it feels predictable – this will help reduce stress.
I encourage families to get creative and come up with any ideas that promote laughter and opportunities to bond. I find myself wrestling and playing hide and seek with my 5- and 2-year-olds. For bigger kids, maybe it’s teaching them a new card game, dusting off old board games, playing charades, or watching a great comedic movie. Family arts and crafts is also a great go-to for a hands-on activity for everyone, and Pinterest has a wealth of ideas for using common household items for crafts.
Dr. Erik Fisher: Help kids understand that life is going to carry on and that there are priorities but also find a balance right now because this is something new. If things are emotional or stressful enough, take a break. If there's something kids need to talk about, take a break. Also recognize that we're all going through it together. Just as people come together to sing out their windows or clap for healthcare workers, families can think of creative things they can do together that help kids feel like they are part of the process. In our family, we started sharing a picture a day that makes us smile. Or you can make cards and send them to your local hospital or first responders. In the process, kids are learning to be generous and to look out for other people and their needs.
Technology has also allowed us to do so much. Why not play a game together online? It can be a board game where kids roll the dice and move the pieces for a family member who might be somewhere else. You can have a fun long game of Monopoly that way, or even a card game. We all feel isolated right now, so why not try something that brings people together virtually.
Dr. Erik Fisher: Having patience is hard when we feel stressed. Raising kids is like chipping a marble statue with a butter knife, and this is a situation where it’s important to have patience. Realize that you're shaping your child's response to the world through this experience and your actions, because it is so out of the norm. Remember, kids are always listening.