I GOT a bit of shock at the weekend. After asking my daughter for the third time to tidy up her Lego, she finally replied. Clenched fists, body rigid, she yelled: ‘Mum, just leave me alone. I’m so STRESSED!’
Wow. Six years old and stressed? It was a harsh reminder that children can feel under pressure from an early age.
One in five primary school children in Ireland experience general anxiety and one in four experience low moods, according to a study last year conducted by SuperTroopers with Laya Healthcare. And that’s before the stress of exams, peer pressure and body image really kicks in!
We can’t remove the challenges of growing up, but we can give children the tools they need to help them cope with life’s ups and downs. Here Dr Rangan Chatterjee, TV doctor and author of The Stress Solution, shares his top tips — tried and tested on his own brood — for raising a resilient child:
1. Create a gratitude practice
‘THIS is really good for a child’s physical, psychological and emotional health and there’s plenty of research backing it up,’ says Dr Chatterjee.
‘My son is eight and my daughter is six, and about two years ago we started playing a gratitude game at dinner. We go round the table and ask three questions:
– What have I done today to make someone else happy?
– What has someone else done to make me happy?
– What have I learnt today?
‘If your kids are feeling stressed, if you’re feeling stressed, the atmosphere around the table changes instantaneously. It helps all of us re-frame our day and focus on the positives. My kids love it. It’s probably one of my favourite parts of my day.’
2. Make daily affirmations
‘My morning routine is about the three Ms: Mindfulness, Movement, Mindset,’ he says. ‘My daughter often has a sixth sense, knows I’m awake and comes to join me. When this happens, we sit and hold hands and we repeat: ‘I’m happy, I’m calm, I’m stress-free.’ We feel like different people afterwards and the effects last all day.’
3. Reclaim the breath
‘I CAME up with the 3-4-5 breath a few years ago: breathe in for three seconds, hold for four and breathe out for five.
Whenever you breathe out for longer than you breathe in, you activate the relaxation part of your nervous system and switch off the stress part. More and more I’m teaching children, teenagers, kids before exams, to do this 3-4-5 breath.
‘Sometimes we do it at home before we eat together to lower stress responses.’
4. Be a role model
‘Kids don’t really do what you tell them to do, they do what they see you doing. If we as parents want to make them more resilient, we have to model that behaviour. ‘If I’m stressed out all the time, my kids will be stressed out too.’
5. Get them exercising
‘One thing we often don’t think about is that the stress response primes us for physical activity. So if a child is getting stressed out about school work, say, or too many after-school clubs, get them to do some exercise. Try a five-minute burst before dinner, play-fighting, a run around or pretend to be animals.’
6. Find one-on-one time
‘One of the big problems with relationships, whether it’s with colleagues, partners or children, is we’re often distracted when we are with them.
‘My daughter called me out on this a couple of years ago. She said ‘Daddy, you’re not really here, are you?’ My mind was elsewhere, on emails, on social media. I understand it, we’re all guilty of it, but resilience in children comes from relationships, they need nurturing.
‘Ten or 15 minutes of fully-focused attention with a child is better than an hour when you are distracted. It’s simple things like putting your phone away at dinner.’
These simple tweaks make total sense — all we need is the willpower to implement them. Perhaps you’ll join me by incorporating one tip a week into your daily routine and let me know how you get on?
The Stress Solution by Dr Rangan Chatterjee is out now (Penguin, €19.99).
First published in the Irish Daily Mail, January 29, 2019
Picture: Sander Weeteling/Unsplash