Have you ever seen your child stressed out?
My boys participate in their school play. One acts in the play, the other is in stage crew. Both want to do a good job each year, all the kids do. Mistakes always happen — sometimes ones you can easily recover from (e.g. someone walks out on stage at the wrong time, but quickly gets themselves back off), some not (e.g. someone says the wrong long line and it throws everyone else off — the kids struggle with whether they should pick up at the new spot or try to get the scene restarted where it should have). For the kids it is stressful. For the parents, it’s hard to notice (because you aren’t as aware of every single line, object placement and timing of everything like those participating are), and hard to console once you’ve realized it happens (e.g. upset kids after the show). You try saying, “You did a great job!” and “You made a mistake? Well, no one noticed” which is often times true, but to the kids, they feel embarrassed, disappointed, sad, and/or angry. I’ve had mild success in getting them to acknowledge that performing and supporting the cast, regardless of mistakes, takes guts; and that the experience is supposed to be something they enjoy not fret over. They appease me with mumble’s of “okay, Mom” or “yea, we get it,” but it’s not convincing. Once the play is over, the stress disappears replaced by relief which is interesting to tangibly see — smiles on their faces, bodies less tense, more willing to engage — it got me thinking about my husband and I and our own stresses and how that must come across to our kids.
I sometimes think I didn’t know what stress was until I became a parent — the kids are not the cause; I am. I want to be present with my kids, teach them things, have fun and enjoy parenthood. At the same time, juggling a job and the increase in household responsibilities (meals, cleaning, carpooling, etc.) requires energy which gets depleted with so many things needing to get done. Being a parent can sometimes feel like a performance too. We are moving things (much like a stage crew) and do our own ‘acting’ when we put on a brave or ‘everything’s fine’ face in front of others when we are in fact tired, strained, and stressed. Throw on what’s going on in our country politically, and the stress can feel overwhelming. When I force myself to relax I notice that I hold my shoulders high and my jaw tensed. Amazing that I don’t realize this or feel it until I’m forced to take a few deep breaths and lower my shoulders and loosen my jaw. I wonder what that looks like to my kids seeing Mom more relaxed, more easily smiling and more willing to engage then just trying to get through to what’s next. My guess is they prefer it to stressed out Mom, who is more snippy and less present.
My kids have once again reminded me of things I need to work on. Step 1) Notice stress, Step 2) Let it go. I’m much happier (not to mention more pleasant to be around) when I do this.
How do you handle stress? How do you help your child handle theirs?