Children and adults experience stress alike. Unlike adults, however, children may not know exactly what is happening to them when stress takes over. During the holidays, Jessie may notice that she feels different than normal; depending on Jessie’s age, she may be able to vocalize that she is feeling stressed.
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When asked to describe her feelings, Jessie may be able to explain symptoms of distress, such as shortness of breath or rapid breathing, fatigue, agitation, anxiety, etc. This distress may carry over to the classroom, where lack of motivation or concentration to complete tasks is apparent (if she is even able to make it to school). Whether or not Jessie understands what is happening to her, her lack of education and/or practice with stress management strategies is inhibiting her from successfully managing stress that comes during the holidays. It is crucial to educate Jessie (and the rest of the class) to listen to her body and be in tune with what she is feeling. Before getting into teaching Jessie how to manage her stress, I would want to provide her with the ability to understand why stress exists, what stressors she typically encounters, and what strategies she can use to conquer her stress.
Starting from the beginning, I would inform Jessie that stress is a feeling of powerful emotions that can cause us to react to a situation. There is good stress (eustress) and there is bad stress (distress). The good stress helps us accomplish tasks, such as scoring a goal in soccer. The bad stress brings on negative emotions and can keep us from accomplishing tasks, like standing up for ourselves when someone is being unkind. I would also state that there is something called a stressor, which is an event that can cause stress. I may ask Jessie to think of the first two examples I gave (eustress and distress) and tell me what the stressors were in each of those scenarios. I then may ask her to think of some stressors that may have occurred in her life. Posing some possible examples to help her along, I may bring up particular holidays, situations that have arisen in class, and scenarios she might encounter outside of school. From there, we could begin to discuss what emotions these stressors bring, and why she thinks those stressors cause her stress.
After teaching Jessie about stress and how to identify her typical stressors, I would naturally progress to teaching her strategies that she can implement when the feelings of stress creep up. Some easy to learn strategies include: belly breathing to promote relaxation, aerobic exercise to reduce the stress, self-talk, setting short and long-term goals for activities (to promote better time management so events don’t accumulate), to name just a few. I would make sure to share with Jessie that life will always pose stressors, and because we can’t outrun them, it is our job to find appropriate ways to manage themone at a time. Teaching and practicing all of the different strategies together in class would allow Jessie to become comfortable with their use, and would allow her to choose the strategy that best works for her.
My main goal for Jessie is to give her the tools she needs to recognize her feelings of stress, what events are causing that stress, and how she can manage her emotions effectively on her own. Stress management is a holistic process, and it will take time for her to master an understanding of her emotions and the application of strategies to manage those emotions. To support her in her process, I would have her maintain a personal journal to write in daily regarding any stress or events that arise. Additionally, I think we could work on anchor charts that could be posted for Jessie as helpful reminders around the classroom. As an example, one poster could represent The Circle of Control, and would have aspects of life that cannot be controlled listed in the outer circle, while the inner circle would have aspects of life that can be controlled. Another poster would be a list of strategies we’ve discussed that are beneficial for stress management, that way they can always be referencedeven in her toughest moments when the emotions overcome her. The idea is to support Jessie in conquering stress, and through practice and implementation, she will be on her way to mastering a lifelong skill that many adults even struggle to manage.
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