1. Check your stress level. Are you under an unusual amount of stress and pressure?
Kids are very sensitive and perceptive. If your stress level is sky high there's a good chance that your kids are picking up on it. One of the downsides to this type of situation is that it can create a cycle of stress for both you and your kids. If you're stressed, your kids will simply react to your emotions and actions. Their behavior can lead to adding more stress to your own life. You'll react and so will your kids. And around and around you'll go. If this scenario sounds familiar, try your best to break the cycle. Find healthy stress relievers and strive to remain calm when you're angry or annoyed (your blood pressure will thank you). Granted, this may take quite a bit of patience on your part, but give it an attempt and see what kind of reactions you get from your kids.
2. Writing down worries and fears. Grab some index cards or pieces of paper that are equivalent in size. Have your child write one worry or fear on however many index cards or pieces of paper that it takes. Once your child has finished writing, take a few moments and discuss each worry or fear while simultaneously writing down solutions or positive responses that address each concern.
For example, a realistic way to address the concern that their daddy will get hurt while deployed is to emphasize the protective equipment (Kevlar vest, helmet, etc.) that their father will wear. Don't forget to jot down the positive reinforcing solutions or statements that you and your child discussed. This will come in handy at a later date if/when this same concern arises (as it often does throughout a deployment).
Another worry that plagues many children is that they won't make friends after a PCS. This is a great time to sit with your child and together list all of their positive qualities followed up with a reinforcing statement such as "I think you'll make lots of friends. After all, wouldn't you want to be friends with someone who is…" and then go over the list that the two of you just created.
If your child is too young to write, you can still do this exercise with them. Simply ask them about their worries, concerns or fears. Take notes of their responses and then discuss positive solutions for each item listed.
3. Effective communication. In the book "The Five Love Languages of Children" Gary D. Chapman, Ph.D and Ross Campbell M.D. discuss how each child has their own unique communication style and thus responds differently to acts of kindness and love. According to the authors the five love languages are:
- Quality Time
- Words of Affirmation
- Acts of Service
- Physical Touch
For example, if your child's love language is acts of service, he or she may appreciate and enjoy all of the quality time you spend together, but according to the book's philosophy, you'll actually help your son or daughter more by simply baking a batch of their favorite cookies or sewing a missing button onto their favorite shirt. Why? Because through your actions you're "speaking" their love language. And in doing so, you'll fill up their "emotional tank" which is an important element in how a child feels love and security. Furthermore, this can result in a calmer, more focused, less stressed child.
Incidentally, the love language theory isn't a new concept. In 1992 Gary Chapman released his first book on this particular subject matter entitled "The Five Love Languages." Since then, many of the military sponsored marriage enrichment retreats (MER) and workshops have used this book as a guide when creating the curriculum for the programs they offer to military couples. (Compare prices for "The Five Love Languages of Children.")
4. Match activities with your child's temperament. Understanding whether your child is an introvert, extrovert or ambivert can play an important part in helping him or her reenergize, which can help to reduce their stress and anxiety.
If you're unsure whether your child is introverted, extroverted or ambiverted consider the following:
Extroverted kids generally prefer an active lifestyle and love being around people. In fact, many extroverts subscribe to the philosophy of the more stimuli the better. These kids love conversation and will often chatter nonstop about anything and everything.
Introverted kids usually gravitate towards solitary or small group activities. They're masters at playing independently and are easily occupied. These children are most comfortable either being alone or in the company of a select few.
Ambiverted kids harbor a mixture of introverted and extroverted qualities. They enjoy socializing but they're also very content to read a book or go for long walks by themselves.
For maximum results, when selecting activities, outings and social interactions for your kids, try and align the various levels and types of stimuli with your child's temperament. And in doing so, there's a good chance that you'll see a positive difference in their disposition, sooner rather than later.
The Power of Small Moments
As parents, we often dismiss those small, seemingly unremarkable moments with our children as trivial and insignificant. However those small moments hold a lot of potential and can add up in terms of providing a healthy avenue in reducing some of your child's stress. How? For starters, these small moments provide your child with a temporary diversion from whatever is troubling them.
Ten minutes spent listening to your child talk about the new game that the kids made up at recess or the latest episode of their favorite TV program, or any other subject that strikes their fancy is a ten minute reprieve from worries, fears and concerns—and not just for them, but for you too.