Recognize When Children Are Stressed To Help Them Cope
It’s tempting for grown-ups to remember childhood as an idyllic time. Sometimes, we may think that since children don’t have to worry about paying the bills, keeping a job, cleaning the home, or keeping their family on schedule, they can’t possibly have any problems. Thinking along these lines is counterproductive because children do get stressed. And they need your help to cope.
Developmentally and emotionally, children and adolescents do not have the coping mechanisms born of experience and maturity that adults do. For this reason, seemingly small things can be very upsetting to them. So be patient and learn to recognize your kids’ stress and help them cope. Here are some things to look for and some tips on helping them deal with their stress.
I. Physical Symptoms
Stressed children may exhibit physical symptoms, such as diarrhea, hives or rashes, restless sleep, changes in appetite, or nausea.
II. Psychological Symptoms
A stressed child may exhibit depression, excessive sensitivity, or social withdrawal. They may be aggressive, have angry outbursts, or have edginess.
So if you see these symptoms in your child, what can you do? You may feel tempted to do nothing. Parents may think it will go away on its own or that their child will outgrow it. But stress needs to be confronted and addressed to not become entrenched in your child’s thought and behavior patterns. Here are some things you can do.
III. Active Listening
Actively listen to what your child is telling you. You may ask them what’s wrong or why they act a certain way and not get an answer. Or you get a response like “Nothing.” But actively listening means paying attention to your child’s words and body language even when they don’t know you’re watching. Additionally, asking your child what is wrong is a good thing to do; it shows them you care about (and support) them. But don’t interrogate them or expect them to verbalize what’s occurring in their life and how it’s affecting them. Even some adults have trouble with this. So try to “read” into your child’s passing comments, complaints, and body language.
IV. Express Empathy
When you express empathy, it shows your child that you notice and relate to how they feel. Verbally expressing empathy can also help your child build a vocabulary to explain their stressful feelings. You might ask, “does it hurt your feelings when people call you names? It used to hurt mine, too,” and share an age-appropriate experience from your past.
If you don’t understand how they feel, ask them if they can “tell me a little more” about what is going on. A description of their feelings or emotions may provide you with a better idea of how to cope. If they feel physically tense, maybe a physical coping skill such as going for a walk or a bike ride will help reduce their frustration as they have defined their feelings physically. Concurrently, if they report feeling overwhelmed, confused, or sad, talking about their feelings a little more may also help provide additional ideas about how they can cope. The most important interaction you can have with them is to express your understanding of how they feel. Sometimes it’s better to sit and be with them than try to “fix” what’s going on.
V. Help Your Child Be Proactive
Help your child find solutions to manage their stress. Sit down and make lists of skills they can try, such as writing a letter to the stress-causing person or cutting back on some of their activities so they can catch up on their sleep or slow down a little. Let your children know that they do not have to be doing something 24 hours a day to have personal worth. They have worth because of who they are.
Most importantly, let them know they are loved.
If you need additional information: visit the resource library at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
S.A. Leys is a Consultant and Coach for the healthcare professionals and teams who care for all of us (http://www.SusanLeys.com). Susan’s book “5 Tips To Navigate Your Stressful Healthcare Career” is available here. Thanks!
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