Stress affects young children as much as it affects adults, which makes it doubly important for parents to learn to manage stress effectively, said Myrna Griffith, family education partner at College Hill Early Learning Center.
Every third Wednesday of the month, the College Hill and Eugene Field early learning centers host parent café, informal meetings centered on parenting topics like effective sleep management. At Wednesday morning’s session at College Hill — temporarily at Trinity Presbyterian Church while the early learning center building is remodeled — parents learned to manage stress in themselves while setting good examples for their children.
Griffith said children often become stressed when they feel like they lack control in their lives, whether that be at school or at home. Signs of children’s stress are similar to signs in adults but also can include temper tantrums, nightmares or fears of things like the weather, dogs or school.
“Children take time to learn how to handle their stress,” she said. “Maybe something bad happened at school, or they might not have handled a transition well. … It’s our job to help show them what we can do to handle those times of stress.”
But identifying symptoms of stress is only one half of stress management.
“Our bodies make chemicals when we’re stressed out, and over time, those can create harmful effects and health problems,” said Keturah Adams, another family education partner, “so the goal is to make sure you’re as healthy as possible and reduce those chemicals.”
To reduce or cope with stress, Adams gave parents tips like eating and sleeping well, learning to let some things go, and finding time for one’s self.
At the end of the session, the parents made stress balls using balloons or socks filled with beans, lentils or flour. They also were able to add calming scents like lavender, orange and lemon.
Andrea Sellman and her daughter Ella, 3, tried their hands at making a few stress balls. Sellman has been a regular at the parent cafes since they started a few months ago.
“It’s been helpful information, and it’s nice to be able to talk to other parents,” she said. “They’re helpful parent tips. Parenting can be very stressful, and it’s good to know how to control it.”
As both early learning centers undergo renovation and expansion in the coming months, Griffith said she hopes the parent cafes continue to grow in the number of parents who come. The centers have picked their topics based on a parent survey.
“We’d been wanting to do this for a few years, but this year, we decided to just go ahead and start,” she said. “We hope that the parents have a feeling of connectedness with other parents and find a way to talk about things they might all be dealing with. They can get a sense of support and bounce ideas off of each other.”