In it, Dr. Shanker explains how stress plays a MUCH more important role in impulse control and emotional regulation than willpower.
When we're stressed, we have a much harder time controlling our impulses. This is the reason why it's harder to stick to a budget, a diet, or a workout plan when our stress is really high.
The same goes for our children.
Their stresses are different - itchy sweaters, hunger, unfamiliar people or situations, etc, - but the result is the same.
They cannot self-regulate and will have a hard time managing their mood, urges, and behaviour when they're feeling stressed.
The short: more stress = less self-control.
Why am I sharing this now?
Some families will have Easter or Passover celebrations this weekend. Some might just plan get togethers because the weather is getting nicer and it's a long weekend.
With these changes in schedule, setting, or the people we're seeing, we need to be mindful about how all these things might affect our children.
Small stressors (to us adults) might impact our children more than we realize, causing them to feel overwhelmed and cranky.
Being sensitive to these changes and managing our children's stress will make the whole experience more enjoyable for everyone.
Here are some potential stressors and things to consider to help your child (and you!) feel regulated over the long weekend:
Uncomfortable clothing - itchy wool, tags on shirts, or clothes that limit mobility can all affect our children's comfort. They're small stressors but can feel significant to a child.
If your child is going into a completely new situation, it can be helpful to wear clothes you know they like and feel comfortable in.
More stimulation than usual- more people, parental expectations, or loud noises can easily make a child feel overloaded and dysregulated.
Follow their lead and pay attention to their behaviour. It's a great indicator of how they are feeling. If they seem overwhelmed, make time for breaks. Take them to another room or outside for a little while so they can have some time for themselves.
Parental stress- if you're stressed, then your children might be too! Easier said than done but managing your own stress will help theirs.
Different environment- if you're spending time outside of the home for the weekend, recognize that your children may need time and space to adjust. If your child is using the toilet, it can be helpful to show them where it is when you arrive so they know they know one is available to them.
Having people in their environment - if you are expecting a lot of people over, talk to your child about who is coming. If there are other children coming over, talk to your child about what toys they want to share with them. Understand that sharing can be a difficult concept for a toddler to grasp so limiting the amount of toys available may be helpful.
Different foods - Has your child eaten the foods being served before? If not, try to expose them to something on the menu beforehand or have some snacks with you if they decide not to eat much at dinner. New foods can be a stressor and if they don’t each much, hunger can also be a stressor.
Set reasonable expectations - If your child is not yet able to do something in their every day life, like sit at the dinner table for longer than 5 minutes, eat with a fork, etc., then it is unlikely they’ll do this at a family gathering. You can hope that it happens (you never know!) but also know that it probably won't, so you plan accordingly.
The flip side of the above is that your child may not want to do things they usually do at home, like sit for longer than 5 minutes ("they usually sit for at least 20 minutes") or eat with a fork ("they haven’t eaten with their hands in months!"). In a new environment and when experiencing something new, a child may need some extra assistance and patience. And don’t worry, they will pick up where they left off once you're at home again.
Hopefully this is helpful! If not this weekend, then at some time in the future when you're preparing them for a new experience or large gathering.