Monday, February 27, 2012

Personal responsibility is a must for kids managing stress
Stress for Success
February 28, 2012

Recently I’ve written about creating a Stress Safety Net (SSN) for your kids so they can feel safe, secure and loved (previous articles at This builds a foundation from which they can better handle life’s ups and downs. The final component of the SSN is personal responsibility; responsible adults learned accountability in childhood.

To teach this important trait, expect each child to do their share of household chores as a responsibility of living in your family. I started dusting in areas where I could do no damage at age four establishing this requirement that I had household responsibilities, as did everyone else.

Do your kids have regular chores? Do you pay them for it? If so, what does that imply: that any contribution to the family should be compensated? if they don’t want the money they can stop doing the chore?

Consider giving an allowance that’s separate from chores to communicate household work is a responsibility, not a paid job.

To divide household chores, teach responsibility AND reduce arguing, call for a voluntary family meeting. Since it’s voluntary, you may be the only person to show up. Whoever shows up, follow these four steps to divide chores.
1. Brainstorm the following four categories:
a. Tasks that must be done, e.g., pay the bills, and jobs you want done, e.g., vacuuming.
b. Agree on how well each job is to be done. Parents usually have to lower their standards while kids raise theirs. Compromise.
c. Agree by when each chore is to be done, like the dishes are done before bedtime daily.
d. Who will do each chore? Let everyone volunteer for jobs. Divide all the refused chores equitably. If parents are the only ones to show up for the meeting select only your share of tasks and do them and nothing else. If neither of you chose laundry, don’t do it no matter how vociferously your kids complain about not having clean clothes.
2. Color code agreed-upon jobs to each family member on a chart and attach to the refrigerator. This serves as a constant, unconscious reminder of which responsibilities whoever opens the refrigerator committed to do.
3. Agree to another meeting in one to two weeks to discuss how it’s going. During the intervening week or two, do only what you said you’d do, how well, and by when. Also, don’t remind anyone of their agreement. You can compliment someone’s work but no correcting, micro-managing or criticizing it.
4. During the next meeting, review how things went and describe any problems you noticed. Ask for suggestions for improvement. Post any changes to the agreement. Repeat this process until all jobs are being done responsibly and well enough. Decide how often to re-negotiate.

Obviously, if your daughter agreed to feed the dog and isn’t doing it, you’ll need to intervene. But don’t nag or do the job yourself. Tell her since she chooses not to feed the dog you will. However, in response you choose to not do one of your jobs for her.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her audio program Teaching Kids how to Manage Stress and her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at Email her to request she speak to your organization at

Monday, February 20, 2012

Teach your children how to problem-solve
Stress for Success
February 21, 2012

Here’s a stress truism: having no options raises stress; identifying options reduces it. So rather than telling your kids how to handle their stressors teach them how to problem-solve, the fifth component of my Stress Safety Net.

The number one problem-solving skill is asking questions, which usually leads to more questions and eventually to answers and solutions. Teach your children to question their stressors and gradually they’ll learn to identify options themselves.

But many parents respond to their kids’ problems in one of three unproductive ways. Which is your most likely response to your child saying, e.g., she won’t get into the college she wants?
1. Say why she has the problem: “That’s because you don’t study enough.”
2. Immediately offer options: “Apply to more schools.”
3. Solve the problem: “Don’t worry. We’ll get you into that school.”

Instead, teach your kids how to think and problem-solve by teaching them these five steps:
1. Have him describe his problem while you lovingly, supportively, and nonjudgmentally listen – versus interrogate. It’s OK to see the problem differently than he. How he sees it is all that matters for now. If he gets stuck describing his problem, ask the journalist’s questions to explore his perception: who, what, when, where, why.
2. Develop empathy: ask how he felt when his problem occurred. Ask how others involved felt (especially with younger kids who aren’t emotionally sophisticated and with any distraught child.)
3. Brainstorm options: kids often give ideas that are basically the same without going beyond the obvious. For example, a young child may say options in making up with a friend are:
· “Say I’m sorry.”
· “Say I feel bad.”
· “Say I feel sad.”
Encourage him to come up with a variety of different answers.
4. Consequences: For each option have him identify the possible positive and negative consequences.
5. Choose the best option: based on the consequences encourage him to choose the option that best solves his problem.

Let’s use the example of your teenager procrastinating on homework. Invite him to go through these steps to avoid this happening again.

Parent: “What’s going on with your science project?”
Son: “It’s so juvenile.”
Parent: “Too easy, huh?” (Paraphrase)
Son: “Yeah. Mrs. Thompson thinks we’re morons.”
Parent: “So you procrastinate because it’s too easy.” (Paraphrase)
Son: “I guess so.”
Parent: “How do you feel when you procrastinate?”
Son: “Pressured.”
Parent: “How do you think I feel when you procrastinate and expect me to help you at the last minute?
Son: “Irritated?”
Parent: “You got it. What can you do to avoid procrastinating?”
Son: “Do it the first night and get it out of the way.”
Parent: “What else?”
Son: “Get it done during study halls.”

Keep asking, “What else” until he runs out of ideas. Then ask about the negative and
positive consequences of each and have him choose his best option.

Coming to his own conclusions is far better than telling him what to do because it teaches his problem-solving without having to resist you.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her audio program Teaching Kids how to Manage Stress and her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at Email her to request she speak to your organization at

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Children need hope and optimism to deal with stress
Pessimistic people get depressed much more often
Stress for Success
February 14, 2012

No matter how wonderful and stable a child’s life may seem, she still has stress: rejection by friends, difficulty with homework, dealing with a bully.
Your children need to know that when they experience these set-backs, life’s not over; tomorrow is another day.

Children need hope and optimism to be resilient to stress and to persist in dealing with life’s inevitable ups and downs. The more realistically optimistic your children, the better they’ll deal with stress – usually.

Optimism is the fourth component your children’s Stress Safety Net, which helps them feel safe, secure and loved. This gives them the foundation to better handle stress throughout their lives.

Dr. Martin Seligman, a highly respected researcher in the field of cognitive psychology, has found in more than 1,000 studies involving more than a half-million children and adults, pessimistic people do worse than optimistic people in three ways, they:
· Get depressed much more often;
· Achieve less at school, on the job and in sports;
· Their physical health is worse;

With today’s depression rate ten times that of the 1950s, anything that can fight depression is vitally important, which optimism does.

However, sometimes pessimism is the more appropriate response. When the consequences are high that an optimistic view is wrong, it’s better to go with a pessimistic perception. For example, an optimistic perception of cheating on a test would be, “I won’t get caught.” If the consequences of being caught are too great, then the pessimistic, “I’ll get caught,” is the better way to go.

To help your children become more optimistic teach them the connection between their thoughts, feelings and behavior; what they think about a stressor determines how they feel emotionally about it, which determines how they react to it. Teach them that all-or-nothing words like always, never, everyone, no one, are indicators they’re probably thinking pessimistically and adding unnecessary stress to difficult situations.

For example, your daughter’s very interested in the boy who’s approaching her in the hall. She’s thinking, “He’ll never notice me because I’m always so boring.” She feels anxious, worthless and pessimistic.

Teach her, however, that she’s not feeling these emotions because he ignores her but rather because of what she’s telling herself about this possibility. Teach her to change what she thinks in order to change how she feels and responds.

She could think more optimistically, “Here he comes. He hasn’t noticed me before but maybe I can engage him in conversation. He won’t notice me unless I assertive myself.”

Obviously, he still may have no interest but - and this is a huge but – she can limit the damage by spinning it more optimistically. Understanding she feels rotten because she tells herself rotten things about herself teaches her to change what she thinks to something like, “It’s his loss.”

Many adults never learn that their feelings are determined by what they say to themselves. They never learn to take charge of their thinking. Instead, give your kids the gift of optimism with this self-empowering and stress reducing understanding.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her audio program Teaching Kids how to Manage Stress and her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at Email her to request she speak to your organization at