If you are a parent of a young child or work with young children, you will understand the stress that cooler weather brings. Not because of the temperature or the move to boots but because of those dreaded zippers.

Zippers are so hard, even if the child can get that little bottom metal piece into its home and get the zipper pulled up, they get stuck or come apart or fall down. Why oh why do zippers have to be so hard?!

The more important thing about zippers is that they represent a hidden stressor. We normally think of kids being stressed by parents divorcing,  sickness or death in the family, moving homes, or a new sibling coming into the family. Yes, these are absolutely stressors for our little ones. But the hidden stressors are smaller daily issues that add up to bigger stress and are a little harder to figure out.

One of these hidden stressors I uncovered with the young students I work with are zippers! The first few days of fall, the students are excited that it is time to go outside to play. They start to get ready and then, in the blink of an eye, everyone is crying and frustrated and bumping into each other…educators included. How did this excitement spiral downhill so quickly?

If you have ever been in a kindergarten cloak room, you will know that the hooks are not spaced all that far apart and that little ones need way more space to spread their belongings out so they can figure out what piece needs to go on what body part and in what order to put them on. Not to mention that there are lots of pink coats and lots of blue coats and they also need to remember which one is theirs. The stress rises but they, mostly, get themselves ready. BUT… they can’t go out till their zipper is done up. They are expected to try so they learn but still there are very few adults to help so they have to “be patient”! It’s really kind of a nightmare.

So I was in the middle of this nightmare one day. Three adults trying to get almost 30 kids out the door early in the year. So many zippers, not enough adult hands! All of a sudden one little girl did up her zipper while she was “being patient” and I shouted an offhand remark from across the room while we were working through the rest of the zippers…”wow, that is so amazing…you are now a part of the Zipper Club!”

“The Zipper Club? Huh?” they all started asking. Uh oh; it was just intended as a simple statement to celebrate the moment. But as kindergarten educators often do, we had to ad lib. We grabbed a piece of paper and wrote “Zipper Club” across the top and wrote that little girl’s name on it.

And what happened next was quite amazing. Other 4 and 5 year olds started coming to show us how they, also, could do up their own zippers and before the end of that day, quite a few students were on that Zipper Club list. That night, a laminated sheet was made so we could make the Zipper Club more official.

The next day, one little girl told us how she had been practicing with her mom the night before and could now do her zipper and asked “can I be in the Zipper Club now?”. YES! Yes, you are now a part of the Zipper Club. Yet other students came and asked us to teach them. And Zipper Club members even offered to teach classmates who were not quite there. And so we all, classmates and educators, started focusing on teaching those students.

Instead of being frustrated at not being able to do something, the mood changed to working on the challenge to get in the Zipper Club with students and educators teaching students the skill needed. Pretty soon, within a couple of weeks, EVERY student was on that list. EVERY.SINGLE.STUDENT.

What do you think would have happened if, instead of accidentally coming up with the Zipper Club, we had just said “go work on your own zipper” or said something like “ugh, parents need to teach their kids how to do these things”? Quite likely, there would have been more crying, more stressed out kids and more stressed out educators.

So, how can you apply the lesson I learned to your own children in your own home? Watch out for the hidden stressors and make it a game or challenge them to learn.

What is one of your child’s hidden stressors that you are going to tackle first? How are you going to change the focus on it? Share in the comments!