Recognizing When Your Children Are Stressed Out and Helping Them Deal With It
Rev. Dr. Kitty Boitnott, NBCT, RScP
Heart-Centered Career Transition and Job Search Coach | Stress Management Coaching
Many of us look back on our childhoods as times of innocence and wonder. It is easy to romanticize what many of us as adults remember as a less complicated time in our lives.
Of course, not everyone has an idyllic childhood. Life can throw challenges at us at any age. But we often think children are resilient and don't have to stress out about the things we adults have to tend to. Things like keeping a job, paying the bills, and putting food on the table, for example.
The fact is, however, that children have to face stress in their lives.
Many times they will worry about things we don't even realize they are concerned about. We need to consider that children may be dealing with their stress in a very personal and painful way.
As parents and teachers, we owe it to our children--whether they are our biological children or not--to pay attention. We need to note when a child suddenly changes their behavior. Perhaps a usually outgoing child becomes withdrawn or sullen. That may be a signal that they are being bullied--or worse. They may be afraid to tell you what is wrong. It is your responsibility to tune in and note when something seems "off" with your child or student.
This year has been particularly stressful for everyone, and children are not immune to the stress that COVID-19 brought about. They were impacted in a variety of ways and perhaps did not understand what was happening. Now more than ever, as the adult in any child's life, you should help them through it.
Coping mechanisms that adults have when dealing with stress come with life experience.
Children have to learn coping mechanisms. They aren't born with them, so they need extra help. This is why sometimes seemingly small things can be very upsetting to children. Patience is key. And knowing what signs to look for and understanding what to do will help the children in your life overcome their stress more easily.
To help you identify the signs of stress in children, here are symptoms to look out for.
Stressed children may exhibit physical symptoms, such as diarrhea, hives, or skin rashes. They may also experience restless sleep or nightmares, changes in their appetite, or nausea.
Of course, there may be physical reasons for these symptoms, so you need to make sure that the child isn't physically ill. But if there is no apparent physical reason for these symptoms, you need to consider that there may be psychological reasons related to stress and anxiety over something that has the child worried.
Emotional Psychological Symptoms
A stressed child may exhibit signs of depression. She may also show excessive sensitivity or social withdrawal. Stressed kids can sometimes become aggressive or have angry outbursts with little provocation.
If you see these symptoms in your child, what should you do?
It's tempting to do nothing and try to ride it out. Parents may think the problem will go away on its own. Or they may convince themselves that their child will outgrow it. But stress needs to be confronted and coped with before it becomes chronic. You don't want it to become entrenched in your child's thought and behavior patterns. So, here are some things you can do.
Really listen. You may ask your stressed child what's wrong or why he is acting a certain way, but you may not get an answer. Or you might get a response like "Nothing."
Really listening means paying attention to your child's words and watching his body language even when he doesn't know you're watching.
Indeed, asking your child what is wrong is a good thing to do; it shows you care. But don't interrogate her or expect her to be able to verbalize exactly what's occurring in her life and how it's affecting her. She may not be mature enough yet to have the words to express what is happening. Even some adults have trouble verbalizing what is causing them pain. So try to "read" into your child's passing comments, complaints, and body language.
If you express empathy, it shows your child that you do notice and you understand. Verbally expressing empathy can also help your child build a vocabulary to explain his stressful feelings. For example, you might say, "I bet it hurts your feelings when people call you names. It hurts mine, too," and share an experience from your past.
Help Your Child Be Proactive
Work with your child in finding solutions to his stress. Sit down and make lists of things he could do, such as writing a letter to the person causing the stress or cutting back on some of his extra-curricular activities. Let your child know that she does not have to be doing something 24 hours a day to have personal worth. She has worth because of who she is!
There are going to be times in all our lives when we have to deal with extra stress. If COVID-19 has taught us nothing else, perhaps it has taught us the importance of resilience and developing healthy coping mechanisms. But this takes work. None of us come into the world with a full understanding of our emotions, but we have the emotions from birth. So we need to learn how to deal with them in the best, healthiest, and most proactive way possible.
Take advantage of the many resources that are available to help you help your child navigate their childhood as easily as they can. Know that you can't shield your child from every disappointment, but you need to communicate to them that you are there to support them no matter what, and they can come to you with any problem, big or small. That is what we owe our children to help them grow into happy, well-adjusted adults.
Until next time.