Stress, Anxiety, Pressure
Learn pracitcal ways to manage stress, life changes, work stress and more
Stress is the cost of living.
A is for Apple,P is for Pressure -Preschool Stress Management
Why, preschoolers dont need stress management.
They dont have stress! All they have to do is play and grow
up. The person responsible for this statement had no daily
contact with or knowledge of the dynamics involved in a
childs reality. While the sources of stress may differ --
for example, a child may be stressed from learning how to share
toys while mom and dad are plagued with financial concerns -- all
individuals, whether adults or children experience stress. We
develop our patterns of stress response when we begin life and
interact with the environment around us.
Although children learn about stress in much the same way that
adults do, the physical aspects are more important to them. From
the onset, their learning has to be tactile; they need to see,
touch, hear, and feel their way through stress signs in order to
fully understand the concepts of stress management. They are
accustomed to learning about themselves in relationship to their
environment outside their bodies: tie shoes to prevent tripping;
wear a raincoat when it is raining, and so on. Therefore, a
structure must be built to bridge a childs internal
experience with the external environment for greater
understanding of self.
By teaching preschoolers how to make healthy choices for
themselves regarding their own behavior, teachers and parents
give children a foundation for building self-care and
self-confidence. Helping children develop an internal frame of
reference will increase their self-control in dealing with
lifes ongoing stressors rather than allow them to feel
victimized by blaming those stressors for how they think, feel,
and act. Children can polish their skills by practicing during
stressful events and as a result, gain self-esteem. Without
skills for handling stress, they are more apt to wallow in
confusion, self-doubt, and self-pity, and depend on external
stimuli for temporary gratification.
Two basic concepts must be established through teaching
modalities to firmly set the groundwork for teaching stress
1. Understanding how the mind, body and
emotions work together; and
2. Realizing that there are appropriate and
inappropriate levels of relaxation and tension.
Since learning, adaptability, curiosity, and implementing new
skills with self and the environment are at a premium for
readiness in the preschool years, children in this age range can
easily be taught stress management skills. However, applying and
reinforcing these skills in daily occurrences creates the real
potential for practical use over the life span. To teach stress
management skills and to apply stress management techniques,
teachers must recognize stress signs. As children become aware of
their own stress signs, they can prevent unnecessary tension and
assume more responsibility for their own psychophysiological
In most instances, stress signs are easily monitored in
children. By knowing a childs normal state of being (body
language, ways of expression, eye sheen, eating and sleeping
habits, ways of interacting with others, and playing behaviors)
it is easier to notice changes. For example, withdrawal or
frequent acting out, restlessness during the day or night,
destruction of objects, nightmares, biting nails, jiggling hands
and feet, abrupt body movements, changes in vocal tones and
energy levels, cold hands/feet, irritability, lack of
concentration, extra body tension (e.g., twitching, stiff
shoulders) can all be signals that something is not right.
However, deviations in a childs normal range of behaviors
can also mean there is a new stage of growth or an illness
settling in. Such deviations also could be indicative of
nutritional deficiency, allergy or physical ailment, all of which
are stressors themselves. One of the benefits gained in the
analysis of this unknown sea of stressors and signals is the fact
that as children learn to recognize their own stress signs, they
learn more about themselves.
Another point to remember is that if there is stress in the
lives of the adults who care for the child, there will
undoubtedly be stress signs in the child because he or she is an
integral part of the system, whether at home, school, or
Beyond normal stress, superstress is sweeping the
land and children are not forgotten in its wake. Our culture is
filled with cancer producing food additives, water-air-land-sun
polluting toxins, disintegration of the family system, soaring
economic pressures upon the working classes, lack of reality in
television programming, and rampant drug use. Consequently, what
were once considered stress-related illnesses for adults are now
infiltrating very young bodies. Professionals in the medical
field agree that an increasing number of young children are
suffering from tension migraine headaches, ulcers, eating and
sleeping disorders, hyperactivity, nervous disorders, blood sugar
imbalances, violence and suicides, and depression and apathy.
What Teachers Can Do
Teachers at all levels must teach and use basic stress
management skills in the classroom. Demonstrate the difference
between appropriate and inappropriate levels of tension and
relaxation. For example, show children which groups of muscles it
is necessary to tighten while carrying a chair or heavy object
across the room. Let them do it, then discuss the experience.
Next, demonstrate how you would look if you tensed those same
muscles while talking with a friend. Again, let the children
experience it to feel and know for themselves. Assign partners
and let the children role-play with each other.
Between activities requiring focused attention, choose one
emotion at a time to explore. For example, suggest everyone
(including you) make an angry, tense face and body; make angry
sounds, stomp around with angry movements, even dance an angry
dance. Point out that the mind, body, and emotional feelings
always work together. To do a thorough job, the children should
notice how their angry thoughts and emotions create body tension.
Next, have children do the same for a totally different emotion
such as happiness, noticing again how the mind, body, and
emotions work together. Let the children understand that it is
impossible to have angry thoughts and a happy body or feelings.
They should also pay attention to the fact that they are in
control of changing everything inside them! By playing with the
spectrum of emotions in this way, children can become aware of
their internal body signals, telling them which emotion is in
place at any given time. It is much harder to lose control when
an internal reference point is in place.
Exploring Stress through Role-Playing
Nonverbal role-plays can be used to help children exaggerate a
situation with their bodies. This type of activity facilitates an
increased awareness internally for personal stress signs. Begin
by first role-playing an emotion. Show facial tension, body
tension and movement. Let the children guess what emotion you are
depicting and which of your body parts are tense. Ask them what
kinds of thoughts you were having, too. It is important to
reinforce the mind/body/emotional connection frequently.
An energizing way to reinforce the concepts of
tension/relaxation, emotional awareness and mind/body
coordination is to explore a jungle with the children right in
your own living room, bakcyard, or school gymnasium. Simply ask
children to join you in becoming an angry ape, sad snake, tense
tiger, happy hyena, cowardly kitten who can turn into a
courageous cat, or any combination of tense and relaxaed animals.
Act out each animal, making appropriate noises and body motions.
Children are enthusiastically creative when they can learn
through their own fun experiences.
Find other modes of reinforcement that can meld into the
stream of activities already established. If children already
stretch occasionally, vary the stretching pace through emotional
awareness (e.g., excited stretch, slow and sad stretch, etc.). If
it is rainy outside and theres a need for stress-relief
from lack of exercise, children can do some jealous jumping in
place, some happy arm swinging, and nervous body jitters.
When eyes are dazed, attention span is scattered, and yawns
dot the classroom, allow the children to drift into the right
brain activity with a relaxation exercise emphasizing health,
history, or science fiction exploration. The quickest way for
children to enter a deep state of relaxation and simultaneously
release some tension, is to tell them to put lots of hard, tight,
tense spots all over their bodies. Tell them to hold tension
everywhere while you count to five. Look for scrunched up faces,
contorted torsos, tightened toes, and shallow breathing movement.
Demonstrate how to do it first. While they are all tense, have
them pay attention to the fact that they are holding their
breath. Then instruct them to release all the tension at once,
letting out deep sighs of relief. If time allows, use imagery by
having the children close their eyes while you guide them on a
fun, relaxing journey to a rainbow planet, another time in
history, or to magical woods where you can encourage them to feel
good about themselves. When children are relaxed, with eyes
closed, it is easy to reinforce the lessons of the day by
reviewing them briefly.
In everyday interaction with children, it is important to
integrate stress management concepts into normal activities.
First, develop a language system to fit your needs and the
activities you are already engaged in with the children. Speak
more about emotions, where you feel tense inside, what your
thoughts are like, and the fact that you need to take a deep
breath when you are upset.
Help children become more aware of stressful situations and
make healthier choices by saying, Gee, Bobby, your
shoulders look pretty tight and tense. And you forehead looks
wrinkled like something is bothering you. What are you feeling
and thinking right now? As the role model, you may need to
share how you feel when you tense similar areas. Provide a body
outline for the child to use, coloring body parts that feel hard
and tense or simply marking them with an X. This
provides a tactile mode of expression and reinforcement in the
childs internal awareness as well as improved ability to
communicate clearly about his or her internal world.
In addition, create space on the agenda for children to
personally share what cuses stress or tension in their lives.
Lists (words or pictures) can be made and group discusions can be
facilitated. Roleplays can be generated for awareness,
expression, and creative problem-solving once children understand
the basic concepts of stress management.
When a few minutes are available, children can close their
eyes and slowly, deeply, breathe rainbow colors into their
bodies. (They can color this later to show you what they look
like when they help themselves feel good by filling themselves
with different colors or rainbows.) Also, if difficulties arise
helping a child discover which emotion he or she feels, choosing
a color that represents the feeling inside his or her body can
help. Follow through with artwork if appropriate. Help children
to breathe fun colors into the body parts that were tense after
processing uncomfortable situations.
What Parents Can Do
Parents can teach and role-model basic stress management
skills easily in the home. They can also reinforce skills being
taught in pre-school or day-care, or suggest to their child-care
administrators that these concepts be taught if they are not
All the aforementioned techniques can be introduced in the
home setting with one or more children. If only one child is
present, puppets can be used to enhance group discussions.
Puppets are also handy in any young childrens group to
prompt discussions and understanding as well as to reinforce
concepts. A fun, tactile exercise for teaching the difference
between tension and relaxation is easily facilitated if a rock
and sock are available. Place a rock in one of the childs
hands, a soft sock in the other. Model the exercise yourself as
you explain how to tighten body parts to make them hard like the
rock, then take a deep breath and relax individual body parts to
make them soft like the sock. Start with the face, tensing and
then relaxing, and progress all the way down to the feet, one
body part at a time. Be sure to use the words tight, hard
and tense, referring to the rock and soft, calm and
relaxed, referring to the sock.
Children frequently are so subjectively caught in their
emotional turmoil that they have little or no understanding of
what they are projecting into the world around them, let alone
what their appearance is to others. A portable mirror is an
unpopular tool (from the childs point of view) to use
during outbursts of emotion caused by anger, jealousy,
frustration or the like. Have this self-reflector easy to reach,
but out of the childs sight, then raise it up to meet the
childs eyes right in the middle of the tantrum or
experience you want the child to see. This reflection can teach
children more about themselves than any number of words. However,
it will be important to explain why this is being done and ask
children at the apopropriate moment what they have seen and
learned about themselves. Another dynamic tool is to role-play a
childs emotional outburst. After this, ask the child to
display the way he or she sees you expresing yourself when upset.
Stress management reinforcement is a two-way street!
The Role of Art in Stress Management
In both home and school settings, artwork can prove to be an
invaluable tool for awareness, expression, and reinforcement.
Preschoolers who can understand the spoken word and hold a crayon
can use colors on paper to express their feelings if given
instructions and opportunities to do so. The artwork of an angry
child will present quite a contrast to that of a child who is
feeling content. Use the artwork as a media to help young
children learn to label, understand, and talk about their
emotions. Place a variety of colored sheets done by children on
the refrigerator or a wall and ask them what feeling each sheet
Once again, create every opportunity that can possibly be
woven into lifes scheme. Have body outlines available for
children to color regarding their internal experiences, thus
providing a steady stream of tactile bridging between their inner
and external worlds. The body outlines become a self-made mirror
for the children, and provide adults with a means of helping the
children to help themselves.
A note of caution regarding use of the body outlines: When
children first begin learning about what is going on insdie their
bodies, a common response to the question Where do you feel
tight or tense inside? is Everywhere.
Unfamiliar with their own internal geography, it will be
important for you to either ask questions about body parts, one
at a time, and/or be firm in telling the child to choose one or
two body parts that feel tighter or harder than any other parts.
The Breath of Life
Whether working with children at home, school, the playground,
in the grocery store or in a car, there is one central key that
can provide magic in this process for all parties...the breath of
life! All relaxation skills have one true core: deep, even, slow
breathing. Just as tension cn create more tension in any
situation, deep breathing can render speedy healing to an ailing
body, mind, or emotions, as well as provide self-control in the
midst of anxiety and chaos. Make a game of checking heart rates
by placing hands on chests to feel fast or slow heartbeats.
Take deep breaths every time the cuckoo clock strikes or a
telephone rings. Make it fun and easy to integrate! Have
hand-check games: touch each others hands to see if they
are warm, which generally indicates relaxation, or cool,
indicative of internal arousal, tension or activation.
Educating children about life has always been a major
responsibility of a society in any given time. If we want our
most precious resource, children, to survive whatever is ahead in
our super-stressed world, they must have the tools made available
to them to cope with daily stressors. Their own internal
resources are waiting to be tapoped, the resources they will have
with them through every step in lifes journey. Without
these basic life skills, they will have difficulty making healthy
choices for their own well-being. By knowing themselves, they can
choose right actions over wrong actions, feel good wnough about
themselves to be content without substance abuse, and know how to
prevent stress-related illnesses. They will also be able to
communicate clearly, to respect others because they respect
themselves, and be able to nurture healthy relationships. Most of
all, they will care. It is easy to incorporate stress management
skills into childrens lives, as easy as remembering that A
is for Apple, P is for Pressure.
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