Young people can experience stress too and sometimes, it can get overwhelming. Childline Foundation’s Datin PH Wong offers advice on how parents can help their children handle stress.
1. Build communication channels
Don’t add to the child’s stress. One of the questions parents always ask is “How was school today?”. It’s a common question but it's also vague and general, so the child may not know how to answer it. Ask more specific questions like “What did you do with your friends in school today?” This becomes a conversation starter.
In surveys by the PJ Child Council, most children say that the last person they would go to if they need help would be their parents, followed by the school counsellor.
They would, instead, go to their friends for support. Friends are the first choice because they can already talk and relate to their friends, who might also be going through the same issues and hence, would be more likely to understand. If they go to an adult, there is that fear of being judged.
Build communication channels with your children and keep these channels open. Otherwise, the children will not come to you or confide in you when they have problems.
2. Know your child
Know and learn what your child likes and dislikes, their interests and tastes, and what stresses them out – and don’t dismiss them.
Spend time with your child and get to know them. Don’t just assume that you already know everything because they might not even like what you think they do.
Also, never try to make your child fulfil your dreams, but rather help and guide them to fulfil theirs.
3. Work it out together
Work through solutions together. Parents don’t have to make all the decisions for their children but rather, be there as their guide and support.
Recognise that children also have feelings and go through with them why they feel as they do and what they can do about it. “Why do you feel upset and what can we do about it?” are questions you can ask them.
Ask children for their ideas because they’ll often have their own thoughts and perceptions. Or if they really don’t, then you can suggest some ideas. This way, the child feels that the decision is shared rather than directed.
4. Don’t stereotype
A lot of parents feel that boys shouldn’t cry and they have to be tough all the time.
But that’s a misconception – boys have feelings too, but they have less avenues to express those feelings.
Some boys don’t show much of their emotions because it’s expected of them not to.
So, a lot of guys end up having difficulties expressing their feelings because they don’t dare to cry or express vulnerability because society expects them to be tough all the time.
Furthermore, it isn't a taboo for your child to see a child psychologist if they need to, so don’t hesitate to seek further help if needed.
5. Learn about parenting
There are three types of parents – autocratic, lackadaisical/overly lenient, or accommodating/communicative. If the parent is very autocratic, the child will not go to them when they have problems. But if the parent encourages the child to talk about their feelings and concerns from young, then the communication channels will be open right up to their teens when it’s even more crucial.
A lot of parents may also feel they don’t have the skills nor capability to talk to their children about “difficult topics” or teach them about sex education.
For parents who aren’t confident that they are able to talk to their children about difficult topics or would like to learn how to be a better parent, there are parenting workshops that you can attend, such as those at: Focus On The Family Malaysia and Positive Parenting Malaysia.
6. Build resilience from young
Children learn how to handle stress through play. From playing alone, the child then moves on to playing with their siblings, and subsequently, their pre-school friends. The group gets bigger as their circle gets wider.
Play comes with the opportunity for interaction and as a child interacts with other children and adults, they learn how to manage their feelings when dealing with people.
As they play, children encounter situations where they’ll need to learn to handle feelings and conflicts.
This is because when they play, they’ll sometimes lose, disagree, get angry, so they’ll learn to build the skills needed to handle those emotions. They’ll learn to negotiate and solve problems.
Life can be more stressful and complicated for children now than decades ago and as parents, we need to build our children’s skills to be resilient, to know what is right, and to know what to do, and if they need help, to know that they can come to us.