TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the ninth in a series of articles about Kenneth Ginsburg’s “Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Children Roots and Wings.” For previous installments, search Resilience at www.tahoedailytribune.com.
As we already know, stress is inevitable. As Kenneth Ginsburg writes: “No matter how competent and confident children are, or how generously they contribute to the world, resilience requires a wide repertoire of skills to cope with stress and challenge.”
While we tend to think of childhood as idyllic, children worry about school, their peers, the future, their identity and their appearance. Older children also worry about war, violence, and even the economy.
What makes it even worse for children and teens is they don’t have the benefit of having lived through cycles of such events and haven’t yet developed the “this too shall pass” perspective that adults use to move on.
Virtually all behavior we fear in children and teens are misguided attempts to diminish their stress: avoidance, procrastination, boredom, bullying, smoking, drinking, drugs, gangs, sex, disordered eating, and self-mutilation to name a few.
Ginsburg describes both problem-focused and emotion-focused styles of coping in great detail. The best protection against unsafe, worrisome behaviors starts with positive, adaptive coping strategies.
Young people who possess a variety of healthy coping strategies will be less likely to turn to dangerous quick fixes when stressed.
Problem-focused coping deals with the stressful issues straight on, while positive emotion-focused coping often involves fostering healthy behaviors such as exercising, eating properly, getting enough sleep, praying and meditating, journaling, even laughing and crying.
As usual, Ginsburg encourages us to look in the mirror before we begin teaching our children coping and stress reduction skills:
Do I help him understand the difference between a real crisis and something that just feels like an emergency?
Do I model positive coping strategies on a consistent basis?
Do I allow my child enough time to use imaginative play? Do I recognize that fantasy and play are childhood’s tools to solve problems?
Do I guide my child to develop positive, effective coping strategies?
Do I believe that telling him to “just stop” the negative behaviors will do any good?
Do I recognize that for many young people, risk behaviors are attempts to alleviate their stress and pain?
If my child participates in negative behaviors, do I condemn him for it? Do I recognize that I may only increase his sense of shame and therefore drive him toward more negativity?
Do I model problem solving step-by-step or do I just react emotionally when I’m overwhelmed?
Do I model the response that sometimes the best thing to do is conserve energy and let go of the belief that I can tackle all problems?
Do I model the importance of caring for our bodies through exercise, good nutrition, and adequate sleep? Do I model relaxation techniques?
Do I encourage creative expression?
As I struggle to compose myself so I can make fair, wise decisions under pressure, do I model how I take control rather than respond impulsively or rashly to stressful situations?
Do I create a family environment in which talking, listening, and sharing is safe, comfortable, and productive?
And as a community, do we:
Have resources where children can safely play and exercise either in the outdoors, or in recreational centers?
Encourage creative expression? Does our community offer resources and programs where children and teens are able to learn and practice creative expression?
Encourage written and verbal expression in a way that allows each youth to reveal thoughts in a comfortable manner, whether through talking, journaling, poetry or rap?
Create an environment where talking, listening, and sharing is safe and productive?
Next time: The 7th C: Control.
Teri Andrews Rinne is the children’s services librarian at the Truckee Library, 10031 Levon Ave. Call 530-582-7846 or visit www.mynevadacounty.com/library.