Stress and anxiety in our own lives is something that we "put up with", but when it comes to our kids we don't want them to unnecessarily be anxious or stressed out. However, stress and anxiety are a part of life and we can't completely inoculate them from these realities. What we can do is recognize when it is affecting them (and us) and prepare them with some tools to deal with it.
Additionally, kids aren't always able to clearly verbalize and communicate what they're feeling. I've listed some signs to look out for that may be indicators your child is experiencing some anxiety.
First, let's go over some techniques that I've learned from many years of martial arts practice. These will work for your child, and for you. Remember, stress can also be contagious. If you're not managing and processing your own stress and anxiety, you may see it bleed over to your children.
The first technique is a sort of self-talk as a way to reframe a situation and re-purpose one's energy. Before a match in a tournament, or even a belt test, I would often feel the anxiety build. Saying to yourself "I'm excited" (rather than "I'm so nervous") can be a useful tool to transform the nervous anxiety and agitation into positive energy for the upcoming event or exertion.
The next technique is visualization. Again, this is drawn from my experience as a competitor. Either the day before, or sometimes right before the match, we would take a few moments to close our eyes and imagine the progression of the fight. Amazingly, the match would often proceed near exactly as I had envisioned. There was nothing magical happening; in reality, there are only a finite number of things that can happen in a sporting match (the rules make it so!) and visualization them makes you better equipped to relax and be aware of what's happening. A similar process can be undertaken for anything you might be nervous or anxious about. Visualize, think about, or write down what could go wrong and right. This will help you feel more prepared and relaxed about the situation.
Breathing. For both the physical aspects of martial arts training, and as an introduction to meditation, we learned some very systematic approaches to breathing. This same systematic approach and attention to the breath can be extremely helpful for both kids and adults to reduce anxiety in the moment. The specific counts and ratios can be varied, but I've found the best way to start is with a 4-count and 1-to-1 ratio.
Here's what I mean by that:
- Inhale for 4 counts
- Hold your breathe for 4 counts
- Exhale for 4 counts
- Hold your breathe for 4 counts
This is a great way to calm down the nerves as well as develop one's breathe control. I recommend practicing this when you are already in a relaxed state, so that you can deploy the technique more effectively when you need to.
These are three, relatively simple, approaches to dealing with stress and anxiety that you can work on for your self and with your children.
Now, hear are some of the signs and language patterns to look out for in your children as indicators they may be feeling a little anxious or stressed out. You know your child and when these statements are atypical or incongruous.
- "I feel sick"
- "I'm not hungry"
- "My tummy hurts"
- "I don't want to go to school"
- "I feel sad and I don't know why"
- "What if...what if...what if..."
- "I can't sleep"
- "My legs hurt. My arms hurt"
- "But I don't want to ____"
- "But, I can't____"
- "I want to stay with you"
- "I'm tired"
- "Nobody wants to play with me"