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A mom of five young children reached out to me for help not
long ago. She was exhausted, stretched
thin and at a loss for strategies to help one of her children. Sleep was almost non-existent for this
particular mom, as the stress of school caused sleep disruption for her
child. Nothing worked. She read everything her friends suggested and
spent hours each night lost in articles, but she continued to feel helpless and
overwhelmed. She needed help.
There is no shortage of parenting theories these days, and
it can be difficult for parents to figure out what really works. The truth is
that every family is different, and every child is an individual, which makes
it difficult to apply broad theories to specific parenting situations.
After talking with the mom for a while, it was obvious that
this particular child needed to learn coping skills to target stress. The transition to a new classroom was
difficult, and the child often internalized his stress instead of seeking help or
finding ways to cope with it.
I've worked with children and adolescents for many, many
years, and stress combined with a lack of coping skills is often to blame for
behavioral changes in children (including sleep disruption). In fact, according to the Stress
in America Survey, 83 percent of teens report that school is a somewhat or
significant source of stress, and 42 percent say that they are either not doing
enough to manage their stress or are not sure if they are doing enough to
manage their stress.
Fear not, weary parents—there is some good news here.
Shifting your parenting style requires time and patience, and there is no one 'right' way to parent your children.
A new study published in the
journal Psychology shows that
children are more likely to use their strengths to cope with stressors in their
lives if their parents implement a strength-based approach to parenting. The study, authored by Professor Lea Waters, concludes that putting a positive filter to the way children react to stress decreases
the possibility of children using avoidance or aggressive responses to stress
while increasing essential life skills such as adaptive coping skills.
What does this really
mean for parents? It means that positive
parenting, specifically building strengths, works. By choosing to focus on individual strengths,
parents can teach their children how to cope with stress in meaningful ways.
Shifting your parenting style requires time and patience,
and there is no one "right" way to parent your children. There are ways to empower children and guide
children toward positive choices, however, and that begins with focusing on
1. Get to know your
Sounds simple, right? You know what your child likes to eat, how much sleep your child needs
and what he prefers to do in his free time, correct? But do you truly know what makes your child
tick? Do you understand his personality
and how he approaches problems?
The fist step to implementing strength-based parenting is
getting to know your child. To understand your child's strengths, you need to
understand the nuances of his personality. You need to know how he expresses emotions and how he receives input
from others. I spend a lot of time
teaching my kids about how brains work to help them figure out what makes them
tick. As important as it is for me to
understand their personalities, they also have to understand. They need to talk about what works for them.
Stress can trigger negative thinking, and negative self-talk ("I'll never solve this math problem!") can lead to negative core beliefs.
2. Identify your child's
Kids should be able to verbalize and discuss their
strengths. A great way to help kids
understand their strengths is to create a strengths list for the whole
family. List the personal strengths of
each family member on a large poster and keep it somewhere visible.
While there might be some overlap (my kids would both list
empathic, for example), each list should be unique to the individual. Talk about how each strength can be used to
solve a problem. Act out skits to
practice putting those strengths into action. Review the list often and remind your children of their strengths when
they face challenges.
3. Practice positive
Stress can trigger negative thinking, and negative self-talk
("I'll never solve this math problem!") can lead to negative core beliefs. Kids need to understand that they are capable
of coping with stressful situations, and positive self-talk can empower kids to
stay positive under stressful conditions.
The best time practice positive self-talk is when kids are
calm and happy. In a state of calm, kids
are better able to process information and practice skills for future use. Role-play
the differences between positive self-talk and negative self-talk and have your
kids identify the positive statements. Together, as a family, generate a list of positive self-statements and
mantras to use when life becomes stressful.
Stress is an inevitable part of life, and it isn't always
bad. Kids can learn a lot by working
through stressful situations. When
parents focus on strengths and rely on positive parenting strategies, kids are
better equipped to handle the ups and downs of childhood. Even during those turbulent