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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Stressed about your career? Guess what, your kids are too.

Stress.  Work life balance.  Pressure. Driven.  Achievement.  Success!  Every day we are inundated with these words and others like them.  They are in articles and on the news and at schools because of how socitey pushes us and our kids to compete more aggressively (success) and then inevitably forces us to deal with the side effects (stress).  Unfortunately, the negative side of this equation seems to be more prominent.

An article in the New York Times stated that college freshman in 2010 were more stressed than ever. http://nyti.ms/f7luBU.  In the 25 years that they have been conducting the survey of over 200,000 students, the results show record low feelings of well being among new college students.  The article also goes on to say that these same stressed out students are also rating themselves as more driven and ambitious.  While drive and ambition are good things for the most part it seems there is a lack of education or preparation for our kids on how to manage the pressures the modern world throws at them.

At a meeting of HR professionals this month the question that was foremost in manager's minds was how to promote balance in the workplace.  The common response to this issue was that it has to be top down.  Management has to take the lead in setting an example.  This is true also at home for our kids.  Unfortunately, in the workplace even if the management encourages their staff to head home early, the promotions at the end of the year will still go to the employee who worked harder and longer and therefore achieved more.

Fighting to improve the work life balance of workers around the world is a noble goal but in the meantime we can help to prepare our children to meet the inevitable stress of life and work.  Teach them how to manage it and in the best cases, use it to motivate themselves.

Managing stress and dealing with stressful situations is a critical skill in the workplace.  It can also come in handy in an interview.  While a normal job interview is a stressful situation for most people, the stress interview is even worse. Techniques involving speed, anger, disappointment and even disgust are used to put our kids on edge and see how they handle it.  In an interview situation such as this when the hiring manager has just told your daughter that her answer was the worst he ever heard, it will be fantastic if she can respond calmly and assertively.

Our kids can feel stress from the day they are born.  Infants are hit with something new and strange and scary almost every day.  Fortunately if they have someone to pick them up and hold them they can get through it.  It is amazing how many stressful issues our children deal with every day.

   1. Homework, tests and grades
   2. Being different from other kids (bigger, smaller, etc, etc)
   3. Social (being part of a group)
   4. Death (their own or a loved one)
   5. Separation (from parents or friends)

And the list goes on.  We cannot control all the situations in our kid's lives and they are going to be confronted every day with something that causes stress.  As our children get older though they are often told to "stop crying" or "act their age" thus taking away one of their most basic forms of stress release.  This has to occur at some point if our kids are going to function in our society as it would be considered strange for a grown man to break down crying in his office when someone told him his budget request is declined.  But, we should give our kids new methods to manage stress.

Stress was mentioned in my previous article about grades.  In the article I listed 4 ways to identify that our child might be stressed.

   1. Change in sleep patterns
   2. Change in eating habits
   3. Easily annoyed
   4. Social withdrawal

I would like to add a few more that I have come across:

   5. Stomachaches or headaches
   6. Moodiness
   7. Nervous habit (nail biting)
   8. Refusal to go to school (may also be an indication of bullying)

What can we do?  Number 1 on the list is "Listen".  Not just to the sounds that are coming out of their mouths but really listening to what they are saying.  If we can give our kids a safe place to come and release the frustrations of the day they can start the next one refreshed.  While listening we can try to refrain from jumping in to solve their problem.  We all know what they should do since we are grown ups and have been through it all but it is important to let them get it all out.  Once they have finished, ask them what they think they should do.  They will need to solve their own problems some day.  Remember to watch them while they talk.  Let them know they have your full attention.

Deep breathing is one that you can teach them to do on their own.  Counting to 10 (forwards or backwards) also falls under this category.  This will help your son or daughter to slow their heart rate (a considerable achievement in itself) and hopefully give them a chance to give a little more rational thought to whatever is causing the stress.  It can sometime help to role play a stressful situation with your child so that they can practice their response in a safe environment.

Physical activity is a great stress release for kids and adults.  Exercise decreases the "stress hormones" and increases endorphins (the good ones).  Even a moderate walk can help.  If you make it a habit to take a walk with your son or daughter after dinner it may also offer opportunities for them to talk about something that would not have come out while sitting in front of the TV.

There is much more information available about dealing with stress both online and through doctors and guidance counselors at school.  I would love to hear if anyone has methods that work.  We cannot eliminate stress from our children's lives but starting early and teaching them the skills to manage it will be a gift that keeps on giving!

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