By Terri Brimstone
We are living in some very stressful times. The day’s devastating events are overwhelming for adults, and it may be difficult to fully gauge how our children’s little minds are coping with these stressors.
As parents, we can’t ignore the realities of our world and the impact they have on our children. Our role is to help them feel safe and secure, and we must be intentional about our approach — not leaving anything to chance.
Studies have shown associations between toxic stress and changes in brain structure. Toxic stress weakens the developing brain’s architecture, leading to lifelong problems in learning, behavior and physical and mental health. When a child experiences toxic stress, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) hormone axis is overactivated. This results in higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can result in long-term changes in inflammation and immunity.
We must support our children’s basic needs as we ease them into the reality of our world’s challenges. Although children may not fully understand today’s stressors, they are exposed to them daily. Here are three things you can do immediately to help your child overcome the impact of toxic stress.
1. SUPPORT YOUR CHILD’S PHYSICAL NEEDS
Provide a well-balanced diet, encourage water consumption, regulate a strict sleeping schedule and promote regular exercise. You must help your children meet their basic physical needs, which is essential for keeping their bodies working correctly. Healthy habits can decrease stress, reduce disease risk and boost energy. Embrace healthy habits as a family by starting slow and making small but impactful changes.
2. PROVIDE VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES
Volunteering promotes gratitude, increases positivity and promotes contentment and feelings of fulfillment and relaxation by releasing dopamine. By serving others, volunteers report feeling a sense of meaning and appreciation, both given and received, which can have a stress-reducing effect.
A 2020 study conducted in the United Kingdom found those who volunteered reported being more satisfied with their lives and rated their overall health as better. Respondents who volunteered for at least one month also reported having better mental health than those who did not.
3. TEACH YOUR CHILD SPIRITUALITY
Spirituality involves a belief in something greater than yourself. Religion and spirituality are traditional coping methods, as they promote an internal locus of control and provide comfort in stressful situations. Religious and spiritual activities reframe stressful events in a way that helps someone deal with life stressors.
As parents, you should clarify your beliefs and not pretend to have all the answers. Introduce your children to meditation, mindfulness and relaxation techniques to help them focus and organize their thoughts. Encourage them to write their ideas in a journal to help them express their feelings.
Terri Brinston, RN, MA, CLNC, is chief executive officer of Nur- turing Wellness Group Foundation. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.