Whether students are turning in college applications or getting through the first day of nap-less Kindergarten, children of all ages experience stress. Beyond teaching state standards and common core curriculum, we as educators can play a role in teaching self-care and stress management techniques for students. This kind of “toolkit” is just as important to ensure student success as exam preparation.
In my experience, the four most important components of a stress management tool kit are:
Before a student’s mind can be calm, it’s important for them to feel physically calm. The simplest way to accomplish a calm state of body and of mind is by breathing. Inhale. Exhale. Breathe. In my experience, most students can calm themselves by counting to 10 while they breathe, but as we are reminded everyday, each student is different.
Alternative methods include watching a live stream of an aquarium, walking to the restroom, taking a brain break, learning yoga positions, or simply lying down for one minute (which students get surprisingly excited about since they don’t normally get to lie down at school!). All of these simple actions – coupled with focused breathing – can be soothing. Once our bodies are physically calm, our minds are more prepared to tackle the to-do list consuming our brain.
Your students have found their calm place. Their bodies are relaxed. Their minds are at ease. It’s time to prioritize. Writing down tasks in order from most important to least important makes assignments less daunting and easier to execute. The action of writing them down turns them into a challenge ready to be accepted instead of a stressful nagging task waiting to be done.
Once your students have created a plan, encourage them to follow through with it! Prioritizing is half the battle and executing is simply keeping a promise. Plus, there’s not much more satisfying than crossing of an item off your list (especially with a pen or a marker in your favorite color.) The more students learn to effectively execute their prioritized lists now, the better they will be prepared to execute small, everyday tasks or larger more daunting life goals later on down the road.
Remind students to pat themselves on the back, treat themself to a hot chocolate, and say their accomplishments out loud. They don’t need to wait until they’ve completed every single task in order to be proud of themselves. They can stop to acknowledge the work that went into breathing and prioritizing. They can pause to acknowledge how successful they’ve been in what they’ve completed so far and for having done it without getting stressed out. Ask students if it feels good to praise themselves and remind them they can make others feel that happiness by praising them, as well.
Teachers, parents and coaches can provide students with ‘toolkits’ for all walks of life but only students can put these tools to use. Remind students that the ability to overcome stress is in their own hands. Conveying this positive message gives them control to guide their own path.
If you’re one step ahead of the game, you may have noticed that all of these tips and tricks to alleviate stress are also completely relevant to adults dealing with stress as well (if you haven’t tried watching a live aquarium, I seriously recommend it!). At the end of the day, stress is unavoidable. But coming prepared with your toolkit each day will make it that much more manageable.