Reducing stress

Reducing stress
It’s impossible to avoid all stress, nor is that the point. Stress is healthy. Our role as parents is rather to expose our child to the normal stresses of life, but to reduce useless and, especially, chronic stress, which is the type that causes the most damage.

It’s impossible to avoid all stress, nor is that the point. Stress is healthy. Our role as parents is rather to expose our child to the normal stresses of life, but to reduce useless and, especially, chronic stress, which is the type that causes the most damage.

Exposing your child to normal life will help him learn to cope with stress on his own. “Overprotecting children will make them more vulnerable to stress. When they are overprotected, children are rarely exposed to novelty and unpredictability, so anything new or any change in their routine can become stressful. And since the ego is overprotected as well, and therefore never exposed to a stranger’s judgment, this risks making the child especially sensitive to what others think of him. Finally, a child’s sense of control will be diminished, as he’s used to an adult controlling his life for him,” explains Pierrich Plusquellec, co-director of the Centre for Studies on Human Stress and father of two.

The advice to expose your child to normal life applies from a very early age. For example, it’s common to hardly have any social life at all during the first months of your child’s life—especially when it’s your first child and you haven’t yet established a support system. But reactivating your social life quickly is a good idea. “Otherwise, you risk exposing your child to stress anytime he meets new people. If you bring him with you everywhere, he’ll know how to adapt to different situations. The same applies to babysitting: how many parents give up on babysitters because it didn’t go well the first time, when all it takes is another try?” asks the researcher, who himself found a solution to this same problem using a little strategy with his daughter.

You can use the acronym N.U.T.S. to determine if a situation will be stressful for your child. Is it novel? Unpredictable? Does it threaten his ego? Lower his sense of control? Based on your answers, you can reduce the intensity of the stress by making sure the novelty, unpredictability, threat to the ego and lower sense of control induced by the situation are addressed. For example, you can offer your child a choice or talk to him about the situation beforehand so that it becomes more predictable. “There are no universal solutions to stress,” explains Plusquellec. He advises parents to adapt their strategies to each child.

When your child is stressed, it’s important to let him release the pent-up energy accumulated through the stress by doing some type of physical activity, for example. “One of the best ways to cope with childhood stress is by releasing energy. The last thing to do is to leave children in front of the TV! Calm activities, such as child yoga, are not for everyone, either. Some children need to move and run to release stress-related energy,” explains Plusquellec.

Structure and routine
“A year ago, our daughter started waking up several times every night. She would cry, telling us that she was afraid. When we spoke to a psychologist, we discovered that she was anxious. New situations were causing her a lot of stress, so we set up several routines (in the morning, at bed time and so on). In just two weeks, the situation improved and, today, everything is back to normal. Now, when she experiences new situations, we can quickly pick up on her signs of stress and anxiety. We continue to provide regular structure for her, give her lots of encouragement and listen more closely, which helps us remedy any situation quickly. The psychologist really gave us the tools we needed. It’s a simple tip: just provide structure and routine.”
Brigitte T., Saint-Joseph-de-Beauce

Babysitting stress… and one dad’s solution!

“The first time I left my daughter with a babysitter, she was two years old. So, I thought about the things that could trigger her stress and invented a “Smarties strategy” (named for the candies I used). I told her: “I’m going to put a Smartie next to your plate so that you can eat when you finish your meal; another one next to your pyjamas that you can eat after you put them on; another on the bookcase that you can eat when you finish reading your book with the babysitter,” and so on. I gave her a sense of control over the situation: the evening became predictable. And to help her cope with the novelty of it, I had the babysitter come the night before so that my daughter could meet her, and they could get to know each other. You can invent your own strategies by examining each of the stress triggers!” says Plusquellec.