10 Steps for Stress-Free Kids (and Parents!)

Kids don’t come with instruction manuals, so for parents navigating naughty behaviour, love can truly prove a battlefield! Here are some expert tips from Shelley Davidow, Author of 'Raising Stress-Proof Kids' on how to be kinder to you – and your kids – in the heat of the moment.

“Parents are not born. We’re made,” notes Shelley Davidow, author, teacher, academic and trained facilitator in Restorative Practice. “We are formed in the fires of our own learning and struggles, and any true wisdom we acquire is the result of failures and heartbreaks intertwined with success and joy.”

Childhood and adolescence is an all-too-brief time in which we can give children the tools that they will need to cope in the world, she emphasises. “If we tip the scales, redress the imbalance between fear and love in our own lives, we have the most precious opportunity to help our children become the healthy, happy, successful and fulfilled adults of tomorrow that they deserve to be.”

Here are some of Shelley's top tips:

1. Tap into your untuition

Relationships with children develop entirely on how we respond to those stressful situations we encounter together so tap into your intuition, Shelley encourages. As a parent, you know what creates stress and what alleviates it within your home, so try and have these triggers front of mind for the times – in the heat of the moment – when you need to be more mindful of navigating them.

2. Include them

Allow your child to explain by giving them the opportunity to be part of fixing things or relationships that have been damaged. “It means we always provide them with a clear understanding of what we need and expect from them,” explains Shelley. “The restorative chat is a guideline for how we might approach restoring peace when it’s been disrupted.”

3. Don't employ extra hands

It’s not the action, but the reaction that can escalate tantrums, says Shelley. “It’s our response that makes or breaks the situation. The course of action that I found to be most helpful and least stressful, and that both my husband and I held to like a life raft, was this: when one of us was dealing with a child who was crying/upset/having a tantrum, the other partner took him/herself out of the fray.” By doing this, there was a far less stressful outcome, she notes. “Adding a third simply magnifies the problem. The one parent who is left with the scream ing toddler (or later, with the sulking teen) can then begin to address the problem restoratively, calmly and even with a touch of humour.“

4. Never stoop to your toddler’s level

We have to model the behaviour we want to see, Shelley urges.

5. Take a break

“If it’s really too noisy, the shutting-yourself-in-a-room trick can be quite effective,” Shelley says. “Say softly that this noise is hurting your ears and that you need to go into your bedroom for a little while. Try the ‘I’ll be back out when it’s quiet. I love you, and I want to be here with you, but this noise makes my ears hurt’ explanation and take note of how you feel when you say it.” The break from each other, the change of tack and focus, has a very soothing effect and usually brings stress levels right down for everyone, she explains.

6. Weather storms with grace

Meltdowns in little ones require warmth, firmness and consistency from the adults around them. “If we show our children that their explosions are storms we can weather with grace, without dissolving ourselves and without giving into their demands out of sheer exhaustion, they will feel loved and secure.

7. Create a lovely narrative

If bad behaviour starts at the dinner table, try telling the children wonderful stories about where their food came from to create a lovely narrative around it so that they are not deemed 'good or bad' food, but food that may one day prove more appealing!

8. Don't blame and shame

When navigating a deeply disappointing incident, remember to put the focus on what harm has been done and how it can be healed, rather than blaming and shaming, says Shelley. “Sometimes the ‘crime’ is already punishment.”

9. Foster awareness

"Children need to know how their actions impact others around them," urges Shelley. "If children do something wrong, we can tell them how it feels for us as parents or we can get the affected sibling/friend to explain what it feels like for them." From a young age, teaching children that relationships - inside and outside the family - are the things to be held in the highest regard is extremely important, she adds.

10.  Avoid scolding or lecturing

Avoid scolding or lecturing if things go awry, encourages Shelley. “We want our children to feel empathy, not guilt. Guilt makes them feel like victims themselves and detracts from the real issue,” she says.

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