Starting back to school can produce waves of stress in children’s bodies and minds. Showing them how to ride the stress wave without jumping into reactivity or impulsive actions based on strong feelings, is a golden skill that will support children throughout their life.
So, I invite kids to pay attention to when the very little first signs of stress begin to pop up. We do this by pretending that we are surfers. When the “waters of life” begin to rock and roll a bit, then we begin to monitor our inner waters, i.e. feelings. I ask them to turn their attention inside their bodies at the first sign of “not feeling good,” just to notice what is going on. Maybe the wave looks like a little tightness in the tummy, or maybe it is slight irritation feeling somewhere inside. Maybe they begin to sweat, or their face begins to flush.
Maybe they begin to bite their nails or chew on a pen. Encourage them to be attentive to the details and to get very specific. Knowing what their signs are, is the first step in being able to catch the stress before it builds into a tsunami-like wave. This is early identification and leads to self-monitoring behaviors.
Next, we talk about what sort of replacement thoughts would help in this moment. I show them how to look for “O’s” instead of “X’s”, to look for things that they like around them. We begin to shift our focus from the things that we don’t like, which causes resistance and stressful thinking, to things that we do like. I ask them to become O Detectives. This gets them focused on creating what they like. You can even begin to write all of them down and collect them in a O Bank so that they are handy when you need them most.
Reward yourself for surfing the Stress Wave. I share with kids that when they begin to practice doing things differently, they actually begin to shift their brains so that it becomes easier over time. Like all new skills, the more you practice, the more you are able to be a skilled Surfer of Stress Waves!!
Surfs UP!! Have fun in the process.
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