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It’s one thing to know what strategies are good for what situations, but using them when needed is a whole other beast. It’s kind of like a healthy diet–most of us know what is good for us and what isn’t, but it is often really hard to regulate ourselves when it comes to making those food choices. Food tastes good. Old habits are easy.
Step #1: Draw attention to symptoms of your child’s stress or anxiety. If you notice that your child is ramping up, showing signs of excess stress/anxiety, the first step is to draw their attention to that in a casual, non-threatening way.
“I notice you that you don’t seem to be enjoying all of your activities the way you normally do. How are doing?”
You could even ask them to rate their stress on a scale of 1-10. Sometimes a quantitative assessment is easier than putting things into words. It also provides a good starting point for a conversation.
“7 out of 10 sounds pretty high. I would find it hard to manage at that level”.
Step #2: Cue them to identify an appropriate strategy. Depending on the nature of the stress, and the symptoms you see, different strategies may work much better than others. Determining the fit depends on some of the following:
- Are they rushing around so much they are not stopping to acknowledge the small positive things? (make a daily list)
- Are they having a lot of negative self talk? (is it exaggerated/true–what’s the other side of the story?)
- Are they overfilling their plates and not making time to relax? (relaxation is as important as every other responsibility)
- Are they avoiding a task? (can it be broken down into manageable steps?)
- How are they feeling physically (what is their body saying?)
- Are they having difficulty sleeping? (what strategies, resources may help?)
- Are they getting enough physical activity? (what can be adjusted in their daily routine?)
- Can they use what they know about the mind body connection/do something physically to manage the mental? (posture check, breathing check, eye focus check)
- Are they in a conflict situation? (type–CALM role play?)
Step #3: Are they actually making use of any helpful strategies? Sometimes the reminder of what they know is all it takes – maybe a little encouragement. If they are escalated/deregulated enough that this does not work, move onto step 4.
Step #4: What are the barriers? What is preventing them from doing what they know will help? Are they external or internal? Have them/help them make a list. For example:
- It’s too much work and I’m already overloaded
- I don’t remember what to do
- I have no time
- It doesn’t work
- I don’t have the space to ….
Step #5: Overcoming barriers. Help them come up with strategies to manage the barriers–can something be allowed to drop off their plate? Can they have use of a specific space on a regular basis? Are they in need of a physical resource? Do they need to role play (talk) through a scenario to practice? Do they need permission to just say ‘no’? Do they need a day off?
It sounds really obvious, but usually, it doesn’t take a lot of intervention. They may just need to stop and with your help, assess where they are at. This is also a good opportunity to ask who they can go to at school or any other place they regularly spend significant time. Remind them that they are not alone, that they have people in their corner. Asking for help is healthy and not a burden on anyone. It is a sign of a self aware person.