To many adults, it may seem as though children have a fairly easy and carefree life. They don’t usually have to pay any bills or go to work or do things that adults may find stressful, but stress still affects children.
If you think about it, children have such limited experience in dealing with and handling the world, that certain things that you may find easy or not too stressful can really bother and affect them. They’re human too, and just as adults, they can feel stress and tension either from having a hard day at school or not being able to find the words and adequately express how they are feeling and that can be challenging.
Part of your job as a parent is to help ensure your kids are able to handle any stressors that come to them and help them build up their resilience and form healthy ways to cope. Below are some tips.
• Notice and recognize how your children are feeling and pay attention to patterns in their behavior that might alert you that something isn’t quite right. Children are still growing and developing, and their version of stress may be different than or seem less severe than yours, but now is not the time to make comparisons. Notice their feelings out loud, for example, “It seems like you’re still upset about what happened at the playground today.” Avoid sounding as though you’re accusing them of something, such as in, “What happened now? You’re still mad about that?”, or putting your child on the spot.
• Actively listen to your child when they express their concerns. Don’t listen to speak or hand out unsolicited advice when it’s not asked for. Be patient and understanding, and avoid lecturing, judging, or blaming them. Don't downplay the way they are feeling.
• Help your child identify their feelings. Many children, especially those who are very young, often don’t have the words to express themselves clearly or effectively and instead act out in anger, frustration, or fear. When your child seems to be having a difficult time with how they’re feeling, help them identify the right words to use when they are feeling a certain way. If you notice your child is angry, tell your child that it seems as though they’re feeling angry, so they can begin to identify those emotions by name. Use age-appropriate terms in ways they understand to help them through this process.
• Help your child think of things they can do to help manage their stress. If there is something specific that is bothering them, and if they’re in a good place mentally to brainstorm some ideas to work through it, help them do so. Offer up tips if your child is in a place where they can listen and work with you through some of their issues. Immediately jumping to advice can backfire, so ensure your child has cooled down enough to hear what you say, or just wait for them to ask you for advice. This can help you and your child problem-solve together to find the best, most realistic, and practical solution while also validating how they are feeling.
• Be present. Sometimes all a child needs is someone to listen to them and validate how they are feeling so they can get back up and try again.
• Give your child opportunities to struggle. This may seem counterintuitive, but allowing your child to do some of their own soul searching and trying different methods to manage their stress can help them become good problem solvers who don’t clam up and back down from a stressful situation. If these behaviors are dangerous, however, get in touch with your pediatrician or behavioral health professional and work with them to help find a solution. Helping your child into a growth mindset not only will make them more resilient but will also help them face challenges and succeed through them.
If you are concerned about the way your child handles stress, get in touch with your pediatrician or pediatric behavioral health professional. For more tips on how to help your child through stressful situations and feelings, click here for a great article from Healthy Children.