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HejKatt

How do your dc react when frustrated or stressed? Coping strategies?

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Lately, when DS (almost 10 yrs) gets frustrated or stressed, he has taken a long time to get over it. He can sit down and sulk for hours, or have physical reactions like an itching sensation over his body which he has to step away and cool down for 20-30 minutes before continuing.  

 

It's not that he has an actual deadline or pressure (no test prep, competitions) - just the usual school work. When I ask him after he's cooled down, he said it was the thought of so much work (which hasn't changed), or today he was hoping to get to do his computer time but was afraid he would get stuck in math. This was even before he started doing anything!

 

This doesn't seem right - he's not dealing with stress like in a regular school environment, and I frankly don't know what to do other than a few fortuitous distractions. Does anyone want to share how it looks like in their home, and/or how your dc grew out of it (please tell me they grow out of it..)? 

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We have found this book to be helpful for opening the conversation about coping:

http://www.amazon.com/What-When-You-Grumble-Much/dp/1591474507/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1450318563&sr=8-1&keywords=what+to+do+when+you+grumble+too+much

 

I don't think it's something one grows out of so much as learns coping mechanisms. I dont' think there's a problem with stepping away and cooling off for 20 minutes. Hours of sulking, however, is not really productive. Make sure there is no "pay off" for that. The work still needs to get done before fun.

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My middle boy, age 7,has difficulties coping with stress and anxiety. I have learned to tell when he is anxious because he starts to rub his nose and fidget.

 

He escalates very quickly, often too quickly for me to catch him. The best way to de-escalate him is to send him outside to run a lap or two in our field. This forces him to take those deep breaths that are necessary for calming down. He comes back with a clearer head, usually.

 

Now during the winter? Well we haven't figured that out yet.

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We have found this book to be helpful for opening the conversation about coping:

http://www.amazon.com/What-When-You-Grumble-Much/dp/1591474507/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1450318563&sr=8-1&keywords=what+to+do+when+you+grumble+too+much

 

I don't think it's something one grows out of so much as learns coping mechanisms. I dont' think there's a problem with stepping away and cooling off for 20 minutes. Hours of sulking, however, is not really productive. Make sure there is no "pay off" for that. The work still needs to get done before fun.

Thank you - the book looks promising! I'll also keep in mind that 20 mins is OK.. 

 

My middle boy, age 7,has difficulties coping with stress and anxiety. I have learned to tell when he is anxious because he starts to rub his nose and fidget.

 

He escalates very quickly, often too quickly for me to catch him. The best way to de-escalate him is to send him outside to run a lap or two in our field. This forces him to take those deep breaths that are necessary for calming down. He comes back with a clearer head, usually.

Yes, this sounds like us - once I sent him out to dig a hole in our yard. Another time, I stumbled into playing with him - kicking a balloon indoors and seeing how long we could keep it up. But catching it soon enough is a challenge - we spent quite a bit of time before we could continue with our routine. 

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DD7 rages when she gets frustrated or stressed. She can flare up fast and hard. She can go from smiles to red faced screaming, hitting, kicking, throwing....in a matter of seconds. Often without an obvious trigger and zero warning. We're working with her OT on coping strategies. One she just gave us last week so we're still working on implementing is to give her a small space that is a cool down area. She recommended like a kids play tent, but we don't have the space. So we're turning under her loft bed into a fort of sorts by hanging a sheet across the long open side. So it's closed off from everything else and is HER space. She said to have books, puzzles, a blanket and pillow, and any small things that calm her down (so for us that will be a few stuffed animals). So when she gets stressed or frustrated or loses control, she can go to her area for a while uninterrupted.

 

I'm honestly not sure how well the area is going to work, because she'll have to be willing to go there in the first place, but I thought I would pass along the idea. Another thing we do is give her physical activity. We tell her to jump on the trampoline, do jumping jacks, tumble, climb the wall in the hallway, crab walk, or even just push around something heavy. If we were in a house I'd send her to the backyard to run.

 

I've found that if I let myself get irritated that the issue is costing us time and try to find shortcuts to get us back on track, that's when it's going to derail us for hours. If I take a deep breath and recognize that it's time to take a break whether I want to or not and whether our schedule really allows it or not, then we can use one of our strategies and hopefully find a way back around within a reasonable time.

 

 

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Stress is subjective.  If he feels stressed, he is stressed.  It is also just another word for mild anxiety.  One person can't really say that another person doesn't have stress.  You may have set up his environment to be supportive and as stress-free as possible, but he still experiences anxiety.

 

There are many resources for this issue with kids.  I have used and liked this one:

 

http://thehawnfoundation.org/the-mindup-curriculum-now-available-through-scholastic/

 

Look for the one in his age range.

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Also, physical activity is important for a boy his age and going forward.

Great point. For one of my ds's in particular, it makes a huge difference if he gets his morning run. I think exercise is important for everyone, but for those with any level of anxiety, it is essential to burn off the adrenaline.
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I totally agree with the exercise piece. I'm telling you, when I ask my boy to go take a lap to cool down, he leaves the house screaming bloody murder and does that about halfway around the field. But by the time he comes in, within five minutes, he's calmer, composed and able to get back at whatever it was that frustrated him. Sometimes it takes two laps, but never more.

 

Now if only I could get HIM to see the benefit of running when he begins to feel himself escalate. Ideally, I would like to see him using running as a way to calm down, on his own.

 

Alas, he still sees it as a consequence, despite our many chats about how good it is for him and how it helps him calm down, and despite the fact that he otherwise enjoys running when he's not upset.

 

He's a tough nut to crack, this boy. You can't tickle him, tease him, or joke him out of that mood. He just gets more angry.

 

I worry for his teen years and later. I see him being the kind of person who misses much of the joy of life.

Edited by Sweetpea3829
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 or have physical reactions like an itching sensation over his body which he has to step away and cool down for 20-30 minutes before continuing.  

 

My son would get this, sometimes with his skin actually turning red (called flushing). It's a pretty miserable reaction--hard to think about anything else when it comes on.

 

 You can't tickle him, tease him, or joke him out of that mood. He just gets more angry.

 

Yes. this would just set my son off as well, and it's usually my first natural reaction to try to lighten the mood. 

 

Agreeing with the exercise piece being important, and daily outside/green time (nature is very important, but my son also discovered that on his own, that green time is very calming.) In the winter, shoveling snow or digging a snow fort can be helpful, or jumping jacks inside were a good one. I also found marching helped--you don't get the deep breathing, but you do get crossing the midline with one arm moving while the other leg moves, and I often found that turned things around here. 

 

B vitamins, zinc, and magnesium can help.

 

We also used to talk about a Self-control "tool box." What were his choices besides whining or a tantrum if he was frustrated? He could ask for help, get a drink of water, do 10 jumping jacks, do laps around the house, shoot some hoops, ask to work on another subject and come back to this one, lay down for a few minutes (not to play but to rest), do something to get the wiggles out, go to the bathroom, get out manipulatives to help--lots of options. I asked him what helps him when he's frustrated & we talked through ideas. I also found that I needed to make sure I didn't model frustration tantrums. (One day when I was late and couldn't find my keys, I suddenly thought...this is what an adult frustration tantrum looks like, and I'm modeling for my kid exactly what I don't want him to do! Maybe not all the same actions, but still, not a pretty sight!).

 

I also found it helpful to nip things in the bud. What I did for attitude was at the first expression, I had them go sit on their beds to think and pray, and calm down, and then come back when they were ready to ask for forgiveness for whatever it was (yelling, tantrum, or whining/complaining/arguing). This kept things calm & I didn't get over-agitated. I also prayed while they were in their rooms. They calmed down and came back, apologized, and then we worked through it. We often role-played what they could have done instead. Role-playing helped a lot.

 
And of course, I checked expectations a lot. Life can't be perfectly structured, but I did try to keep structure as that helped. Life isn't without surprises or mishaps or difficulties that we just don't know how to work through--but I tried to keep most ordinary school work in the "doable" range and make sure I wasn't jumping to a high difficulty level without scaffolding--things like that. 
 
Workboxes helped a lot here with making the level of work seem doable, and they were mostly the same every day so my kids knew what to expect. Knowing what to expect can be very calming. Hang in there!
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Can't help you in determining if they will grow out of it because mine are just twelve. I find it most useful to send them out for a walk. If I'm really thinking, I will send them out to DO something for me or for the animals. So I might give them greens for the chickens. Or send them out with an apple for a snack and make sure to remind them to give the chickens a bite. 

It helps. Don't think it eliminates anything-school is still long, math is still hard, etc. But that's what I do when I am getting upset. I walk it off, and then try to focus on doing something that doesn't have me at the center. If I can take the inward focus and turn it outward, I'm less likely to dwell on the frustration and what it means to me, and then I can get busy working.

 

And don't forget to feed him! I've lost count of the times when an apple or carrot along with some cheese was all that was needed to settle a boy back down.

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Hot bath! You should see our water bill

LOL  You could make body butter and put in lavender essential oils.  Or a sensory retreat.

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I totally agree with the exercise piece. I'm telling you, when I ask my boy to go take a lap to cool down, he leaves the house screaming bloody murder and does that about halfway around the field. But by the time he comes in, within five minutes, he's calmer, composed and able to get back at whatever it was that frustrated him. Sometimes it takes two laps, but never more.

..

Alas, he still sees it as a consequence, despite our many chats about how good it is for him and how it helps him calm down, and despite the fact that he otherwise enjoys running when he's not upset.

 

He's a tough nut to crack, this boy. You can't tickle him, tease him, or joke him out of that mood. He just gets more angry.

Yes, yes and yes - they sound like twins! When he hits the frustration stage, he gets so entrenched that it is exhausting to get him to just do the things that calm him down, let alone pick up from where we left off. I've been looking out for triggers, e.g. word problems in Math, new/difficult piano piece, he didn't have a good night's sleep, but some days I feel like I'm walking on eggshells around him. Sorry I don't have any helpful advice, I just wanted to commiserate and hope the other posters' suggestions help - there are some really good ones.

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We also used to talk about a Self-control "tool box." What were his choices besides whining or a tantrum if he was frustrated? He could ask for help, get a drink of water, do 10 jumping jacks, do laps around the house, shoot some hoops, ask to work on another subject and come back to this one, lay down for a few minutes (not to play but to rest), do something to get the wiggles out, go to the bathroom, get out manipulatives to help--lots of options. I asked him what helps him when he's frustrated & we talked through ideas. 

..

I also found it helpful to nip things in the bud. What I did for attitude was at the first expression, I had them go sit on their beds to think and pray, and calm down, and then come back when they were ready to ask for forgiveness for whatever it was (yelling, tantrum, or whining/complaining/arguing). 

..

And of course, I checked expectations a lot. Life can't be perfectly structured, but I did try to keep structure as that helped. Life isn't without surprises or mishaps or difficulties that we just don't know how to work through--but I tried to keep most ordinary school work in the "doable" range and make sure I wasn't jumping to a high difficulty level without scaffolding--things like that. 

I only quoted a couple, but your post had so many helpful suggestions - thank you Merry! 

 

About the self-control tool box and nipping things in the bud, those sound very promising and I will certainly try those. Were your dc soon able to recognize their frustration and pick up an alternative (rather than you telling them)?

 

I also wanted to agree about expectations and keeping things "do-able": I tend to start the day with all the subjects which need alertness: Math, Chinese, piano but I finally realized that each subject was difficult in its own way: Math because of word problems, Chinese is always challenging, piano when he started a new piece (since he hates to make mistakes) and when those three happened back to back, well, it was a recipe for disaster. 

Edited by HejKatt

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About the self-control tool box and nipping things in the bud, those sound very promising and I will certainly try those. Were your dc soon able to recognize their frustration and pick up an alternative (rather than you telling them)?

 

Yes and no. I would say that over time they gradually recognized their frustration more often, and sometimes would make a better choice. Sometimes not, but they might be willing to apologize for wrong actions sooner, or come around sooner. There were still times when they didn't recognize it though. In many ways, this is a process that can take years but gradually gets better. Sorry to be a downer, but wanted to be realistic. Think about adults you know who haven't learned self-control. Or, adults you respect but have seen them pushed to a limit. As I said--I realized that if I was late and stressed, I didn't act so great either. However, walking this road with my kids helped me to 1, work on my own responses so that I was modeling a good response to pressure, and 2, extend more grace to my kids. This is the kind of stress our kids deal with, especially if there are any learning disabilities in the picture, or if homelife has emotional stresses--we had some of both. In this process, I became a lot more understanding of what they were going through. Just because what stresses them now wouldn't be a stress for me, doesn't mean it isn't incredibly difficult and stressful on a child. 

 

Even when my kids were not able to recognize or respond to frustrations, I found the "self-control toolbox" gave us a way to re-set more quickly. It gave us an understandable language, and some pre-set responses--and while the first time with a frustration might take time to work through, subsequent times can take less time--they catch on quicker, they are willing sooner, and so on. 

 

Eventually things changed from me sort of expecting a poor response to being surprised by one. But I wouldn't say that change was sudden or overnight, if that makes sense. Be patient, but guide him into better, more appropriate responses. Hang in there!

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