Helping Children Through Stress
Why does a six-year-old become stressed when their parent loses a job? Why does an eight-year-old suddenly become queasy and ill when its time to go to Little League?
Many feel that children live relaxed, stress free lives. This isn’t always the case. Over the years I have had a chance to work with families and have had the opportunity to learn about what frightens children, what causes anxiety in children which in some cases can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.)
Stress doesn’t always happen to a child directly they can be witness to a traumatic event which impacts them as though the trauma is happening directly to them.
We as parents need to be open and consider why certain behaviour are happening in our children. We need to learn how do you distinguish the difference between stress and a temper tantrums. Is the stomach ache your child is complaining of the result of too many treats, or is it the math test they have tomorrow?
Duration is key factor in telling the difference between stress, and normal childhood growing pains or illnesses. Does your child start to feel sick when the bus is coming? Is this a one time event? Then perhaps some calm discussion and reassurance may be all the child needs. Has this behaviour been ongoing? If it is then its time to start paying attention, the behaviour may be something which requires intervention by a professional.
Another factor to consider is, is the stress age and developmentally appropriate?
A clinging two-year-old and a nine-year-old who refuses to get out of the car are much different from one another. When you try to drop your nine-year-old off at school and they refuse to get out, do they say things like “I’m not getting out and you can’t making me,” then its time to sit up and take notice that there may be more going on here than just not wanting to go to school. Is there something at school that is making them so uncomfortable, and so unhappy they no longer want to be there, then it is definitely something that needs to be investigated more closely.
The degree of intensity is also important. If the behaviour is disruptive to the family and is become a major stumbling block to the growth or happiness of the family members then it is time to intervene.
Recognizing Stress In Children:
From the time we are born until the time we leave this earth we all have stress. Recognizing when a child is under stress, and helping them learn to work through it is a life skill that every adult who spends time with children needs.
From the time we begin dealing with stress. Some babies are born very sensitive. They can have physical triggers such as feeling uncomfortable if clothing tags or diapers rub against them, or get fussy when handled by too many caregivers often become overstimulated. These type of children will pick up on stress around them.
Toddlers often become stressed due to separation anxiety. Beginning daycare can be a very stressful situation for a two year old. They may become anxious for a number of reasons: they don’t know what they are going to find there; how they are going to get around; what they are going to do. They don’t know what the expectations are and consequently they don’t go willingly. This can be coupled with a fear of being abandoned. A toddler being dropped off in a new place for the first time may be thinking, when will my Mom or Dad be back. They don’t know that you will come back for sure. And since a two year old doesn’t have any real sense of time, they can’t understand if “later” is a few minutes from now, or a few days.
Young school age children may become stressed just learning how the routine of school works, they may wet themselves if they aren’t chosen for activities, they may be teased by bullies, or just not understanding what a teacher wants them to do. Sometimes these children feel like they aren’t understanding what everyone else is and that can be a huge stressor for them. They don’t understand why the children around them “get it” and they don’t.
Report cards can also be a major stressor, receiving a written report on how someone else is judging you can make a child cringe. Name calling by other children, not being invited to parties, or just not fitting in and feeling like they are disappointing their parents can also be a stressor.
As children get a little older, around 4th grade, the academic part of school beings to become more difficult. If a child isn’t understanding some of the material and someone calls them dumb, they begin to feel that “maybe I am dumb” which effects their self esteem. Around this time they may begin to grow apart from friends, other friends may move away, and there may be new people in the classroom to get used to. All of these changes can cause stress in school age children. It’s important to support your child and help them realize that they will make new friends, and they won’t be forgotten, especially at home.
Fifth and Sixth Grade can be very difficult for many reasons, one of the biggest changes children in this age group are body changes. They may not realize the changes happening in their body happen to everyone, and they may think what’s happening to them isn’t normal. They often have fears that the changes happening inside them will make them unlovable. If they have a bad report card they may feel that bad grades are going to follow them around forever.
Belonging also becomes very important. They may be trying to find a group where they belong.
In recent years kids of this age are reporting more and more that they are being Cyber-Bullied. If kids are going through any of these life events it is important for parents to intervene and guide their children to give them the life skills they need to deal with what’s happening to them.
During Junior High School identity become very important. Kids want to be part of a group of friends they identify with. Another important factor is NOT standing out from the crowd. Blending in is of major importance to them.
Having others see their body can also make them uncomfortable. Think back to junior high when you were in a change room full of other students changing for gym class, and how it made you feel. Having others see your ever-changing body, often feels like a complete invasion of their privacy and they may think other kids bodies look better than theirs, or appear more developed than theirs, this can be a very traumatic situation for a young teen.
For High School aged children appearance, lack of money, lack of fashionable close and a sense of not belong to what they feel is a popular social group can all cause stress.
Date Rape is another huge concern for kids of high school age. Even though they may never experience a date rape themselves they may have friends at school who they know who have been date raped or have even witnessed it themselves. Youth may also find out after the fact that they were a bystander at a party or other event where a date rape occurred. Even though they may have had no knowledge a rape was occurring they may have guilt over having not been able to stop it, or at least help. They many not know how to handle it emotionally, may not know who to tell, or where to turn to for help. This can be an extremely traumatic situation for our youth.
In order for parents to help our children deal with the stresses they are dealing with we need to be sure they feel connected to at least one adult they feel they can trust. They need to feel safe and secure, and loved. Being able to trust an adult to look out for their best interest can help guide them through these very stressful times in their lives.
All it takes is one person, to help our children build the resiliency to handle the stressfulness situations they may come across in their lives. Letting your child know that you are there for them, to talk with them, to console them and most of all support them. While you can’t always solve their problems for them you can help them by brainstorming solutions to situations without judgement or criticism. Let the youngster come up with solutions, this will make them feel this is something they can do, which will make them feel empowered to move through their stresses.
A great way to solve stress related situations is to have fun with your children: go for a hike, play at the park, giggle and laugh with them. Dance with them, sing with them, and teach them that what seems like dark and dreary now will soon come to pass.
I have confidence in you. I have confidence in your families. I have confidence in the world that we will overcome the traumas that we have suffered, that we will be better and stronger. We will be able to come up with more creative solutions, because we are the kind of people who can do it!