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How Early Childhood Educators Can Help Manage Stress – Q&A with Alice Honig

Alice Honig headshot

We asked Alice Sterling Honig, author of Little Kids, Big Worries: Stress-Busting Tips for Early Childhood Classrooms, for her best advice on helping young children feel ready to learn again this fall after months of prolonged stress for many families.

Q: What are some ways that parents and early childhood educators can help children manage their stress as they start the new school year with new rules/requirements in place?

1. Acknowledge Feelings. One of the most important things that parents and educators can do is to accept and acknowledge a child’s feelings. Often times, children’s feelings and emotions can be ridiculed or downplayed. But, everyone needs to feel like they are understood and that someone cares about their feelings. Talking with children and validating their emotions can help them process and overcome challenging situations.

2. Keep Routines. Routines can help keep children calm and relaxed. Consider how regular and soothing your routines are, even if they feel monotonous to you as a parent or teacher, for things such as sleeping, dressing, and eating. Changing wake-up times, for example, can cause added stress as children have to adapt to a shifting schedule. When your child knows what’s coming and what to expect, they feel more relaxed and comfortable.

3. Cook with Your Kids. Letting young children participate in cooking can help them express emotions, learn new things, and explore their creativity. By bringing them into the kitchen, they can smell the banana bread as it cooks, knead the dough and pound it with their hands and fingers, and feel a sense of importance, inclusion, and achievement.

4. Create Songs. For difficult situations, sometimes a simple, made-up song can help soothe a child, especially when taking a nap or falling asleep. Reflect the feelings that a child is experiencing in the song so that they know their feelings and emotions are being acknowledged.

5. Explore the Outdoors. We know that greenery and the outdoors can boost endorphins, so get outdoors as much as you can. Take a walk in the woods or through a garden; breathe in the fresh air and absorb the natural world around you. Also, let your children help you with planting in your garden. Let them dig in the dirt to get them more involved.

6. Infant Massages. Infant massages can be so soothing for a baby. As a parent, if you sense that your baby is feeling tense, give them a massage along their arms, legs, and feet to help relieve some tension and stress that may be building up. And, if you’re feeling tense and stressed, ask an adult to give you a massage, too!

7. Yoga Breathing. Inhale five breathes through your nose, hold your breath for four seconds, and then breathe out through your mouth for eight breathes. Breathing exercises can help calm heart rates and reduce anxiety in both young children and adults.

8. What’s the Worst and Best Things that Can Happen. When facing a difficult situation or decision, ask your children “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” and “What’s the best thing that can happen?” Doing this gets the child to use their brain to rationalize the situation and see both the positives and negatives of what they’re facing.

9. Read Poetry. Reading poetry with children can help them calm down and relax if they are feeling stressed or anxious. The rhythm of the words can be soothing to them as they work through their emotions.

10. Get Creative. Help children dance, paint, draw, or sculpt how they feel. Expressing emotion through a creative outlet helps to work through strong feelings. Artwork can help to get out some of the stronger feelings of anxiety, anger, or sadness. And, children can act out some of their feelings and emotions with their artwork. Silly putty can also help children play with their hands and express strong emotions.

11. Bibliotherapy. Books that show characters overcoming challenges or that teach kindness, compassion, acceptance, or courage can help children deal with worry, grief, or frustration. Children often love to hear the same book read to them over and over again, and these books can teach valuable lessons for children.

12. Reminders. For parents, tell your children each day that you love them. Tell them, “We may be having some trouble now, but I love you and I am so lucky to be your parent.” Especially during these tougher times, it’s so important to tell and remind your children that they are loved each and every day.

13. Tell Jokes. Jokes can calm children and make them laugh, even if they are silly, nonsensical jokes. Also, get your children to tell you jokes back. This can help them focus more on humor and support their creativity as they come up with new jokes. A good belly laugh can make you and your children feel better.

Interested in Learning More?

Little Kids, Big Worries cover image

Little Kids, Big Worries: Stress-Busting Tips
for Early Childhood Classrooms

Packed with fast, innovative, and clinically validated stress-busters, this empowering book gives early childhood professionals the tools they need to recognize and help conquer stress in young children—and improve development, learning, and behavior.

Check out the book

Read a free excerpt from the book
Chapter One: Understanding Stress in Children’s Lives »

Download the infographic
20 Stress-Busters for Young Children »