Leigh Ann recently wrote about the work of Dr. Michele Borba, an educational psychologist whose aim is to strengthen empathy and resilience in children. While looking at Dr. Borba’s work I came across an interesting piece by her that had to do with helping children reduce stress and raise their level of empathy. Borba actually took these lessons from the Navy SEAL program. If these techniques help the men and women who are part of this elite, high stress program, certainly they can help all of us! Here’s what Dr. Borba suggests.
- Deep Breathing– How easy is this! Simply teach your children (or do it yourself when you’re in a stressful situation) to take a slow, deep breath and hold it for a few counts. Then release it. Tell your children to concentrate on the feeling of the breath leaving their bodies. This process brings oxygen to the brain and helps us to relax. You can teach very young children to do this, too. Have them lie down and put a favorite stuffed toy on their tummies. Then have them practice making their tummies go up and down.
- Mental Rehearsal– Navy SEALs are taught to rehearse the situation in which they will be involved over and over before they are actually in it. They rehearse by saying what it going to happen step by step. As they do this they picture it in their minds. You can teach your children the same thing by taking what could be a stressful situation and going over with them what will happen. For example, if your children are anxious about going to summer camp, you could say, “First, you’re going to go up to the welcome table to get your name tag. Visualize yourself doing this and saying hello and giving the person your name. Next you’ll go over to the area where the other children are. What might you say there?”. By going over the steps and helping your children visualize themselves in the stressful situation, you’re giving them a chance to replace some of that anxiousness with confidence.
- Chunk It– How many times have you looked at something you have to do and thought, “I just can’t”? Navy SEALs don’t look at getting through the entire mission. They focus on getting through the first minute, then the next, and then the next. We need to teach our children to chunk it. Start by acknowledging that, yes, it’s going to be hard to get through the…[first day of school or piano recital]. Have your children focus on getting through a little bit at a time and then congratulating themselves after each step.
- Positive Self-Talk– Help your children come up with an affirmation they can say to themselves to boost their confidence. It might be “I know I can stay calm” or “I am able to play this piece in front of an audience.” Rehearse these affirmations with your children until they are able to recite them without you. This way they can use the affirmation even when you’re not there to help them. Thus, their confidence in themselves (as well as their empathy) will grow, and their stress will be reduced.