Quite simply put, “Yes”. Stress is something that we all face every single day. It is not dangerous in itself and some stress can actually be quite helpful. Good stress alerts us to real and certain dangers and directs us to act accordingly, like looking both ways before we cross the street. Bad stress can hang around after the threat or trigger has left and can interfere with our ability to perform everyday tasks, it can also lead to anxiety and other physical and mental health issues.
Recognising how our kids respond to stress is the first step in teaching them how they can manage it. A thought, a place, an event or a person (whether real or imagined) can all evoke a “fight of flight” stress response in our kids that can vary in intensity and frequency. (Sometimes to the point of excess).
Below are some of the most common responses to stress seen in our children.
- Nail Biting / Nail Picking.
- Withdrawing from activities.
Not wanting to participate in activities or socialising with friends as they once did.
- School Refusal.
Not wanting to go to school with no clear answers as to “why”.
- Upset Stomach and/or Headaches.
More than the usual number with no medical explanation. Most of us carry a large amount of our stress in our stomachs.
- Irritability and anger.
Sudden and/or more frequent bouts of irritability or anger as our kids are experiencing strong emotions and are unable to cope with them.
- Sleep Problems.
Insomnia, nightmares, constant waking or trouble falling asleep. Too much or too little sleep.
- Obsessive worry.
“What if”? Worrying about every little detail of the day.
- Irrational Fears and Phobias.
Worrying excessively about things that are unlikely to affect them.
- Changes in appetite.
Eating more or less and craving high fat/ high sugar foods.
Spending more time than is considered necessary on one piece of work or a task to make sure it is “perfect”.
Avoiding tasks or events that will cause stress like trying out for the school choir even though they love to sing at home and can sing quite well.
- Lack of concentration and focus.
- Loss of confidence.
- Clinginess or separation anxiety.
Clinging to a parent or specific teacher.
- Excess Fidgeting.
What Can You Do?
Observe and listen. A child will not always be able to say “I am stressed”. Look for signs as already mentioned, observe their body language and listen to what they have to say. Statements like “I don’t feel well” or “I have a sore stomach” or a child who is continually apologising can often be code for “I am stressed”. Identify which stress responses your child is showing and then keep a record of when these behaviours occur. This along with an open dialogue will give you an idea of what it is exactly that is stressing your child and when.
Implement coping strategies. Once you have established your child’s stress responses and triggers, it is time to introduce some strategies to help them manage. It can be quite individualised for each child and family but some basic strategies include counselling, breathing exercises, meditation, a change in bedtime routine, mindfulness, a change in the way you manage your own stress and/or a change in diet.
So, there it is. “Yes” your child is stressed but a little bit of manageable stress is actually good for them. If you are worried that your child’s stress is out of control and may be affecting their mental or physical health (and yours), try some of the coping strategies mentioned here or seek the services of someone that can devise a management plan with you like a Counsellor.
For further information and support please do not hesitate to contact me here or via my website, details below.
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