Energy Zappers – How our child’s environment can impact their ability to manage stress and cope in the world.

 In Anxiety Series, Education, Learning, Parenting, Personal Development

Hurried changeovers and long trips, being squashed like a sardine, worrying about losing children among the vast crowds, loud noises and constant visual stimulation, missed connections and delays.

Ah public transport, aint it grand?

Yes and I’m very grateful for it. But man it can be exhausting.

I don’t think it would matter how much I meditated or how Zen I was, when another train whooshes past us and toots really loudly, my alarm starts ringing and my heart pounds. My nervous system has been assaulted by a stressor and I need to calm myself down. This I can do, but it definitely drains my energy. If I had to do it every day I would be a nervous wreck!

Have you ever thought about what stressors your children might be exposed to that are draining their energy and making it difficult for them to learn and behave to their full potential?

If you have a child with eczema you know this is a very obvious stress to a child. It’s itchy and painful and your child may be irritable and miserable. Because you can visibly see the cause of distress, it’s easy to empathise, and you do everything you can to reduce their stress and make them comfortable.

But what happens when your child frequently hits other children, or has constant meltdowns? Have you ever considered that your child could be reacting to stress? Conventional wisdom would make the assumption that the child has made a poor choice and was completely in control of their behaviour. But it’s not quite that simple.

If we assume that the child has CHOSEN to behave this way and then give a punishment or lecture about “making better choices”, we miss a valuable opportunity to discover what lies beneath and actually help create real, lasting change. We all know that if we are tired or hungry that we are much more likely to “snap” because we aren’t feeling our best. It’s no different for our kids but we might not realise they are under any stress unless we look out for it.

Dr Stuart Shanker, research professor of psychology and philosophy, shares his thoughts about energy and stress in his book Self-Reg. His theory is that when our energy is low, because of too much negative stress, it is very difficult to control our impulses because of what’s happening inside our brain. He urges us to use our detective powers, the same ones we use to help our child with their eczema, to uncover the hidden stressors impacting our children’s behaviour and ability to cope.

A few things to consider –

  • Some kids thrive in a busy, noisy, environment with lots of stimulation and challenges.
  • Others need a quiet, peaceful and slow-paced environment with less visual and auditory stimulation.
  • Things like lighting, décor, foods and sound can impact children in different ways.
  • Tone, pace and volume of our voice can make a huge difference to how our kids feel when they are with us.
  • Some kids love cheekiness and sarcasm while others respond much better to an adult who is clear and direct.
  • Energy is required for more than just running around, playing and making good choices. We actually need energy to help us calm down and be able to sleep. Ever heard of “tired but wired”? Our nervous system can be so exhausted that we have trouble relaxing or sleeping well. No wonder so many of us are so tired these days!

There are many others but those are just a few simple things to think about.

This doesn’t mean that our kids are always going to feel comfortable and stress-free, and that we tailor every moment of their lives to suit their exact needs and preferences. This would not be possible or beneficial to them! Our kids need some stress in their lives, and next week, I will be writing about the balance between challenge and support to give a clearer picture of what this looks like.

In relation to our kids with anxiety, if you have a child whose alarm is ringing all the time from too many stressors, they are going to have very little energy left to manage those anxious thoughts. If you can help reduce your child’s stress load by using an eczema cream or turning down the lights, then why not do it? Far from making your child weak and incapable of managing, it will give them much more energy to deal with the other stressors that come their way.

So this week I’d love to hear from you about things you notice in your child’s environment that cause them stress and how you mitigate it. Please leave us a comment below and we will continue this conversation next week.

I also highly recommend you explore Dr Shanker’s website, YouTube videos or see if you can get a copy of his book. We are in no way affiliated with any of the people and companies we recommend, we would just love to share information that we have used ourselves in the hope it may be of assistance to you and your family.

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