People often remember childhood as an idyllic and carefree time. But children don’t see their lives that way. Though they may not have jobs or finances to worry about, family matters and life changes can still cause a lot of stress for kids. And unlike adults, they haven’t developed a lot of the skills needed to cope with stress. But as a parent, you can help them.
What are the common stress triggers for children?
A major cause of childhood stress is parental fighting, especially divorce. When divorce happens, children may miss a parent’s presence but they’re also grieving the loss of their family. It may have been for the best, even for the child but that doesn’t make it any less sad. Reassurance and communication are key here. Let your kid know what they’re feeling is normal.
Happier family changes, such as the arrival of a new sibling, may also stress children. Again, the important thing is reassuring the child that they’re loved and that their feelings are normal.
If your child has just started or is about to start at a new school, they’re probably going to be stressed. If they become stressed in the middle of the year, ask them what’s going on. It could be arguments with friends, poor grades, fears about tests or something more serious such as bullying.
I know moving still stresses me out, but I recall it being worse as a kid. Life as you know it disappears. Your friends disappear. It kinda sucks. (Tip from personal experience: I moved around a lot as a kid, so my parents always told me and my brother that “home” is our family, not a place. That seemed to help us and still defines how I look at family and loved ones.)
The loss of a loved one or even just an acquaintance is a huge stress trigger.
It may not be a good idea to let your kid watch the news. Terrorism, wars and natural disasters can freak anyone out. Besides, the media is often geared toward making us afraid since fear is a powerful motivator whether you’re a politician or an advertiser.
How can I tell if my child is stressed?
1. Bad Moods
Most children don’t recognize that they’re feeling stress and may find it hard to articulate their feelings. So the stress will often manifest itself in irritability and bad moods.
2. “Feeling Sick”
Everything from stomach aches to nausea to headaches may actually be signs of stress.
If a child who typically doesn’t wet the bed, starts bedwetting regularly a likely cause is stress (although it could be medical). Look for any patterns between the events of your kid’s life and the bedwetting.
4. Difficulty Sleeping
This could show up as tiredness or difficulty concentrating.
5. Nervous Habits
Nail biting, ripping out hairs, teeth grinding or biting pens could all be signs of stress.
How do I help my child cope with stress?
1. Say Something
If you think your kid’s feeling stressed, say something. This lets them know you care and are watching out for them. Also, it invites them to talk. Make sure you don’t sound accusatory, just interested.
Listen with interest and patience. Ask questions and get the full story. Avoid the urge to interrupt with blame or lectures.
3. Label It
Since ancient Judaism, there’s been a philosophy that naming something gives you power over it. I couldn’t tell you if this works in the spiritual realm, but in the emotional realm naming a feeling can help a child understand, communicate, and get some control over their emotions.
4. Limit Stressful Situations
Not all stressful situations can be taken care of, but many can. If there’s a bully at school you may want to talk to teachers, or if your kid is struggling in a certain subject you can help them learn or find a tutor.
5. Do Something Fun
It’s good to openly communicate about stressful situations but bad to dwell on them. Doing something fun will help your child take their mind off the stress. Play a game, watch a movie, or explore nature. Just hanging out with you kid makes a big difference.
[About the author: Austin Sheeley is a passionate blogger who spends his time researching and writing about health care, specifically enuresis. He is an online producer for the bedwettingstore.com. Image: kevin dooley]