A Prevention Model That Helps Reduce Substance Abuse In The Future Yearsby Gloria S. Elder, M.A.
In today's fast-paced society children are faced with more stressors than ever before. They must cope with increased rates of divorce, child neglect, negative community environmental conditions and substance abuse. When stress is overwhelming, children seek relief. One child may act out negatively, while another may turn inward. Stress and the inability to effectively manage it can lead to alcohol and other drug abuse. The literature indicates more than a casual relationship between stressful conditions and substance abuse, and that alcohol and other drug use are learned responses to stress. Therefore, it is very important to equip children early with skills that help them to effectively cope with the stress in their lives. ¬†
The Pre-School Stress Relief Project (PSSRP) was developed by Jennie C. Trotter and Gloria S. Elder for early prevention work with pre-schoolers. ¬†This substance abuse prevention and mental health program was developed to reduce stress and increase coping skills in youth. The PSSRP provides training, consultation and educational resources in the area of stress management for preschoolers, parents and teachers. This model is based on the premise that equipping children early with positive coping skills for stress reduction will increase their awareness and choices for healthy lifestyles over negative ones, such as substance abuse. Substance abuse prevention requires more than providing basic information; it also includes teaching developmental levels, skills necessary for forming positive self image, making good decisions and developing coping strategies.
This program has three (3) components: pre-schoolers, teachers and parents. Teachers and parents learn how to handle their own stress, become familiar with stress management and help children become better equipped to deal with life's changes in a positive, rather than a negative way. The following is a list of strategies that parents and teachers can do to help children learn to cope with stressful situations:
It is very important for adults to provide successful experiences for children. This can be accomplished by being aware of their individual differences, strengths and weaknesses and by helping them set realistic goals. This helps children build self-esteem, reduce stress and increase successful coping skills. More importantly, adults must utilize these strategies with children, throughout the children's period of growth. ¬†By starting early it will have positive long-term benefits. Stress is inevitable. However, the more resources and skills our children have available, the better they will be able to cope effectively with stress. If you have developed your own set of skills and resources for coping this will serve as a valuable resource for the children. We encourage you to understand the concept of stress as it relates to you and children. We trust that you will use this information to help children cope with stress.
- Talk with children about their feelings and concerns. ¬†Allow children to express their own feelings as you listen with an open mind. ¬†Let them know that you are concerned about their feelings.
- Praise children for their accomplishments and efforts.¬† Help them develop a sense of self-worth.
- Affection from you can reduce a stressful situation. ¬†¬†Remember to say "I love you" and other positive, affirming statements to the child regularly. ¬†For example, "You are a good person", "You are beautiful", "You are strong" and "You can do it".
- Examine your own coping skills. ¬†Be positive. ¬†Parents should be aware of what coping skills they are modeling for children when they are experiencing stress. When under stress, do you tend to drink more or talk with a friend?
- Do not over schedule the child. ¬†Children need time to rest. ¬†Do not plan three activities such as, swimming and dance close together.
- Prepare the child for change whenever possible. ¬†This will give the child time to adjust. Remember children are sensitive and may sense that changes are occurring and worry even more if they are not properly informed and prepared for change. ¬†Remember that children are resilient; they can bounce back and handle situations a lot better than we give them credit for.
- Be honest with the child about what is going on. ¬†When explaining stressful situations to your child, always be truthful. ¬†Provide the child with extra security before potentially stressful situations.
- Encourage children to think positive. ¬†Use positive statements such as, "I can handle this." "I can pass my test." ¬†"I can control my temper." ¬†Help them visualize and create a mental picture of what he or she wants to happen, not what they fear.
- Teach the child relaxation exercises to use when he/she feels uptight. ¬†Deep breathing and tensing and releasing exercises help calm the body and enables the child to relax.
- Help children to express anger positively. ¬†Children have a right to feel angry or upset. Allow them the opportunity to express these feelings.
- Teach positive ways to release anger. ¬†They can punch a pillow, count to 10, talk to someone about angry feelings, go for a walk, or take time out to rest and relax. ¬†Positive angry releases give the child time to accept his/her anger and not hurt others in the process.
- Make sure children eat a nutritious meal, get plenty of exercise, and have a good night's sleep. ¬†Proper nutrition, exercise and adequate rest are some of the best ways to manage stress or change in their lives.
- Find humor in stressful situations and laugh with the child. ¬†Tell jokes and encourage the child to tell jokes to release stress.
- Set clear and consistent limits for the child's behavior.¬† Making rules and setting schedules can create order in a child's life. ¬†Following up with consequences makes rules work, and children learn that discipline equals caring.
- When persistent disturbing behavior continues, seek professional help. ¬†Asking for help when you need it is a sign of strength. ¬†When you are at your wits end, outside help can be comforting to you and helpful to the child.