Math is stressful! Some people get anxiety when they do math. In fact, I bet most people have felt anxious about one math concept or another over the years. Stretching the brain can be frustrating and can even hurt sometimes.
One day my eight year old son, Porter, was doing his math. It was a new concept, which to him seemed unnecessary and overwhelming. He asked me to come help him. As I sat down and put my arm around him to console and help him, I noticed Porter's eyes were puffy and red. His checks were wet. He was crying. My heart felt instant compassion for my young boy because I remembered laboring over the same math concept when I was young. I probably cried then too. I told him that I remembered that part of math being hard for me too when I was his age and that I knew he could get it. Nothing I said seemed to make it all okay.
Is it healthy to cry over math or other hard parts of life? Crying can happen for many reasons. Some people cry when they feel joy or something deeply spiritual. Others cry when they feel bodily pain. Porter's cry was for worry and stress. It was not a spiritual or physical cry, it was purely emotional. Crying itself is not bad, but being consumed with stress and anxiety is not healthy. Crying can often be a symptom of this stress.
Dealing with stress is difficult. What do you do when your child is stressed out? What do you do when you are stressed out? Do you cry too? Does it help release the stress? Does it solve the problem which is causing stress? Does it help you take action or does it encourage you to stop trying? What is the emotionally healthy way to handle stress? Give up? Give in? Move on?
There were many thoughts running through my head as I looked at my son's obviously stressed appearance. I wanted to help him be happy and master the difficult math concept. I learned long ago that teaching children to give up is a recipe for a frustrating future life. He needed to be able to be okay and learn math.
Ways To Manage Stress
This is what I did:
As I held him close I said, “Porter you are crying. This is obviously making your worried. When something worries you it is the same as a no answer. You need to be calm and accept the no answer. Okay?”
Porter looked at me with his red puffy eyes and pouting lips and said, “okay.”
He was not really okay, but he may have been trying a little bit. So, I said, “Porter you are obviously not all the way calm yet. I think we should change our project for a minute to help us calm down, then we can come back to the math. I need you to go out and cut me some chard for lunch. Okay?”
Porter did not want to do yard chore right then. He looked at me and struggled through an “okay.” But, he was not okay. Then, the thought came to me....he needs to feel my calmness. Then he can be calm too.
I said, “Porter, give me a hug.”
He leaned into me, but didn't really put his heart into it. “Like you mean it Porter.” I said.
This made him wrap his arms around me tightly and we held each other for about 30 seconds. His breathing improved. His eyes were still red from the crying, but his heart felt calm now. He was ready to follow an instruction. So, I said, “Porter, I see you are choosing to be calm, so I won't need to do the 'rule of three' to help you calm down. I am going to give you an instruction and then you can finish your math after you do it. Okay?”
Porter looked in my eyes and calmly said, “Okay.”
We both smiled at each other as I gave him the instruction to cut chard from the garden again. He said, “okay” again. But, this time he was different; he really was okay.
After doing his small chore and checking back, his heart was completely changed. His approach to math was different. We talked for a brief minute about how math books don't hurt, but that stress does. “The good news is, we can control the stress and the math book.” I said. “It doesn't ever have to control us.”
He knew math wasn't the enemy, stress was. Once he conquered the stress and saw the math as something which is not meant to hurt or control him, he was ready to problem solve again.
The rest of the day Porter wasn't upset or pouting. He conquered his violin songs, piano songs and even wrote a biography report. He did it all with joy and confidence. He had conquered himself. He had felt calmness though our hug and chosen to follow that feeling instead of the feeling of stress in his mind.
In my mind, hugs are small miracle makers. Whenever I notice that someone has given in completely to their emotions I hug first and then instruct and teach about which principle is needed for happiness. The hug prepares the heart of the person and lets them know I love them and support them no matter what, and that I am safe to take advice from.
In this story I should have made sure I made a deep connection, with a hug, to ease his anxiety and create a safe united feeling before I started the teaching. Either way can work, but the connection is really the part which changes the heart of the child.
Hug more! Connecting cures stress. Stress is a selfish feeling. Connecting is the best way to stop being selfish.
See Nicholeen use a hug another time to calm a stressed out teen HERE (In episode 6)