Do you need some help?

A child walks up to you and offers you a banana. What do you do? You should say “Thank You” because in our culture, that body language says, “Here, have this banana.”

Kids can and should ask for help.

It is important that we expect our children to begin using their words to ask for specific help as soon as they learn to communicate with us. All speaking children can directly ask for help. Non-verbal children can use sign-language to ask for assistance. It is easy as parents and teachers to simply assume what our children want when they hand us their sealed snack packet or walk up to us and say, “I’m hungry”. Although, initially, this may be faster, it doesn’t allow them to practice the important skill of directly asking for help when it is needed. We can’t assume that every person our child speaks to now, and on into adulthood, will be able to automatically parse out their unspoken needs.  Passive requests can be both misinterpreted or completely missed.

So, for better or worse, next time your young child walks up to you and hands you an unopened bottle of glue or tells you they are thirsty, please help them rephrase and form a question. Invite them to include a “please” and “thank you” while they’re at it. Gracious words are always welcome.

Do you see the signs?

120314_7303Children show the signs of stress in a huge variety of ways.  Sometimes, it can be easy for adults to mistake stress for another emotion or motivator.  A few common behaviors that look like something else, might be stress related instead.

Here are a few examples:

  • Fits of tears seemingly out of nowhere
  • Snarky, sarcastic comments
  • Withdrawn silence
  • “Fidgetiness”
  • Non-stop talking
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Quick temper
  • Giddy silliness

Recently, we spoke with Lucy about how she sometimes feels stressed.  She mentioned that she was feeling a little bit of stress as Winter Break approaches.  She is worried about the upcoming Winter Performance and all of the changes to her routine related to the break. A few of the children made a connection with Lucy’s feelings.

Identifying stress as an emotion is really not part of our current childhood culture.  Adults usually relate stress to work, health, interpersonal relationships, time and money.  We generally don’t pay attention to the other triggers for stress that frequently effect children (not to mention us.)  Many small things can set our stress reactions off.  A change in routine, an anticipated event, or even an unexpected reaction from others when we try, and fail, to communicate a need.

We helped Lucy identify some of the physical clues that indicate stress. A tightening of our muscles, a need to “get away”  or disappear and a burst in energy can all be signs that we might want to assess our situation and response.  The children helped Lucy find ways that she could alleviate some of her stress and begin to calm down.

The first thing we tried involved tightening and relaxing our muscles.  We closed our eyes, balled our hands into fists and squeezed as hard as we could.  We held this while we counted to ten, then slowly allowed our hands to open, releasing the tension and the built-up energy.  Our second experiment dealt with breathing.  Again we closed our eyes as we slowly inhaled deeply, held for one second and then slowly released our breath.

The children noticed that after both movement sets, their muscles felt more loose.  Some suggested that they felt more tired.  We don’t expect our children to leave Pre-kindergarten with the ability to manage their stress at will.  Our hope is that they begin on a long path to recognizing their own feelings of stress. With at least a few strategies in their pocket to help them manage stress, the world can be a lot less frightening place.