Teaching Your Child to Let Go of Stress From School

A sad child at school

Courtesy Echo / Cultura / Getty Images

Everyone has moments of negativity. We all get angry, hurt, anxious, guilty, and stressed. It's simply not possible to get through life without those moments. Your child is going to have those moments, too. One day they might get their feelings hurt by their best friend. Perhaps their friend will say something mean to them or invite someone else to a special event. One day your child might get a C on a project or test in school instead of an A.

It's OK if your child expresses their negative feelings. In fact, it can be good to express them in order to deal with them. Anger is a natural emotional response as is feeling hurt when someone has done something unkind to us or when something bad has happened to us. Crying over a hurt or even saying, "I hate them" is not by itself wrong.

However, it's hard to see our child feeling sad, angry, and distressed, especially when they seem to have a hard time moving past it. What can you do to help your child "let it go"?

Target and Destroy

Sometimes symbolic actions can help us cope with our feelings. This is one such action that could help your child "let it go." Have your child write down what is bothering them on a piece of paper. For example, they might write down, "I got a C on my project."

That's all that's necessary, although it can help to write down the emotion, too, so they might write "I got a C on my project and it made me feel sad." After writing down what is bothering them, have your child get rid of the paper.

Getting Rid of the Paper and Negativity

Your child can choose from a variety of methods to get rid of that paper (and symbolically what is bothering them).

Dispose of It

If the piece of paper is small enough, your child can wad it up and flush it down the toilet. That can be gratifying, but only if the paper is small. You don't want to clog the toilet!

If you have a garbage disposal, and the piece of paper isn't too large, your child can tear it up into pieces and throw it down the garbage disposal. Hearing the garbage disposal grind up that problem and wash it away is also gratifying.

If you live near some water like a pond or stream, your child can tear the paper into little pieces and toss it into the water. Paper will decompose and won't hurt the environment.

Turn It Into a Toy

Your child, with your help, if necessary, can turn the paper into a paper airplane. If this is the option your child would like to use, it's best to use a full sheet of paper. You can make a fairly simple paper airplane or a more complex paper airplane. Have your child send their problem out into the air.

The airplane will, of course, fall to the ground, but the act of throwing it into the air and watching the problem fly away (even if it's just a short distance) can feel good. When the plane falls to the ground, the words may still be on the paper, but the problem has flown away. Your child can either crumble up the plane and throw it away or save it to remind them that they let that problem go.

If it's a problem that may come up again (less than a perfect grade, for instance), the plane will be ready to take the problem away again.

If you live near some open space and the weather is warm, your child can pin or tie the problem to a kite. This is the same principle as the paper airplane, but it has the added benefit of giving your child an opportunity to fly a kite. The problem can be written on a small, but long strip of paper that can be put on the tail of the kite.

As the kite is flying up high in the air, the problem is being blown away by the wind. You can buy a kite if you don't already have one or you and your child can build one.

Bury It

Another way to get rid of the paper in the warm weather season is to bury it. After writing down the problem on some paper, your child can tear it up and bury the pieces in a flower garden. The paper will decompose and can then "become" part of the flowers. It's a wonderfully symbolic way of turning something negative into something beautiful. If you don't have a flower garden, any kind of plant will do, bushes, shrubs, and even trees.

Write a Letter of Forgiveness or Apology

If the negativity is due to what someone has done to your child, have your child write a letter of forgiveness. This type of letter can help your child heal. Even if the person who hurt your child has already apologized, your child may still be angry and hurt.

It's not until we decide to forgive the person who hurt us that we begin to feel better. That is true for our children as well as for us. It's the act of forgiving that makes the difference.

In the letter of forgiveness, have your child write about the event and explain why it hurt and then tell the person they're forgiven. The letter doesn't have to be sent. It can actually be useful to save the letter. When your child gets older, they can read what they wrote. Time often helps us put things into perspective. What seemed like the worst thing that could ever happen later seems rather insignificant.

If your child is feeling guilty because they are the one who hurt another person, then they might want to write a letter of apology. Your child may want to send this letter, but they need to keep in mind that it is up to the other person to do the forgiving.

If your child apologizes, there is nothing more they can do. It should be a sincere apology and should not start with anything like "I'm sorry if..." or "I'm sorry you feel that I...." That makes it sound like the writer doesn't think they've done anything wrong. It doesn't sound sincere.

We can't protect our children from all the hurts and negativity in the world, but we can help them deal with their feelings when they are exposed to them.

By Carol Bainbridge
Carol Bainbridge has provided advice to parents of gifted children for decades, and was a member of the Indiana Association for the Gifted.