Mansi, a Std 9 student has a hectic day each day of the week. She is up at 5.30 to either complete her homework or attend early morning tuitions. She reaches home at 4, has a hurried snack and rushes out for some more tuitions and extra coaching to prepare her for her board exams next year. On alternate days she attends dance classes and Abacus. Mansi often complains of fatigue and headaches and feels like crying for no reason.
Abhinav, a class 10 student has been a class topper for most of his academic life. As the board exam approaches, he begins to push himself harder to perform. His parents have invested large amounts of money to get the best coaching and online tutoring for him. He feels that he must do his best. He stops calling friends home and gives up playing evening cricket. He becomes irritable at the smallest things, over the last 6 months he puts on 7 kilos.
Does this sound like the average student today? The chances that these kids will develop any stress related illness-obesity, blood pressure, migraine- in the next few months is possibly very high.
A 2002 national survey supports this, the survey found that 1 in 3 teenagers had bad eyesight, 30 per cent had decaying teeth and 17 per cent of adolescents were overweight. More significantly, 1 in every 5 teens had stress-related emotional disorders.
Moreover, the dramatic rise of suicide rates among teenagers (Indian teens have the world’s highest suicide rate) stands testimony to inadequate skills in handling stress among both parents children.
Here are some simple de-stress tips parents can use with their children.
- Visualization: This works very well for kids. Ask them to imagine a series of happy/relaxing/successful times in their lives. This will help the child shift from a state of anxiety to a state of inner calmness, at the same time activate powerful resources in their brain.
- Deep breathing: Ask the child to Inhale deeply through the nose and hold it for a few seconds and Exhale very slowly through the mouth. Repeat these steps a few times. Deep breathing is the fastest way to calm the body. It triggers a relaxation response, therefore can benefit children struggling with anxiety, depression or other stress related disorders. For children, breathing exercises can simply take some of the stress away before a test or speaking in front of the class.
- Progressive muscle relaxation: Coach the child to tense and relax each part of the body such as “Tighten your fist-hold-then relax”. This helps the child learn the difference between tension and relaxation and that a relaxed body leads to calm mind and clear thinking
- Mantra meditation: Ask the child to chant “AUM” 3 times a day followed by the Gayatri mantra. Playing gayatri mantra in music form (easily available on CDs) at the beginning of the day has been a proven method of improving concentration and focus.
- Head Massage: Headaches are a common problem among students and its main cause is tension and over reading. This tension often originates in the shoulders because of tight muscles in the neck and scalp. A General Head Massage is a wonderful technique to relax and de-stress the body, mind and soul. For simple headaches start from the shoulder work up the neck and all over the scalp with thumb rotation, kneading, pressure and tapping. This will loosen the tight muscles and will relax the head region.
- Music: Teach your child to turn to any form of relaxing and soothing music. Music stimulates the brain and leads to improved productivity and focus. Instrumental music such as sounds of the ocean, sea, water are extremely soothing and relaxing.
- Creativity: Craft, simple painting, sketching and colouring are excellent stress busters. They allow the child to vent their frustrations and also indulge in non-scheduled, unfocussed activity.
Lastly, one of the most important things for a parent to do is to give importance to their child’s feelings. Children cannot express how they feel (in fact many adults have difficulty doing that as well!). So a stressed child is unlikely to say “I’m overburdened” and would instead say “My head hurts” or “I feel like throwing up”. Parents need to actually “LISTEN” and decode what their child is saying.
Parents can also help children to verbalize their feelings. If a child learns to say “I’m worried” or “I’m angry” he learns to name his feelings. Naming feelings puts them at a distance so that kids can cope with them better, and not feel overwhelmed by them
The ones who understand the child most are parents and their love and support can be the deciding factor between a stressed and a calm child.