All children Stress about things in their life.
The word ‘stress’ is seen as a negative word but actually stress can be good for us. Not only does it sharpen our thinking to help deal with challenges but periods of stress can teach us important coping and resilience strategies. The same is true for children. Small challenges, stresses or worries in a child’s life can help them, with support, to develop the coping mechanisms they will need to deal with bigger stresses later on. The important thing is to stop stress from becoming distress.
Children are often not able to clearly articulate their thoughts and emotions and so often stress manifests in physical and behavioural symptoms (xx link to our blog on signs of stress in children xx). While it can be tempting to step in and ‘fix’ everything, normal childhood stress is often better resolved when the child learns how to either shake off or to cope with the problem themselves. Some good ways to do this are:
Encourage play time – children who are physically active have less extreme responses to stress.1 If your child is stressed encouraging them to go outside to kick a ball or play with friends will help them relax. They will learn what makes them feel better when they are tense. Play time doesn’t even have to be physical, the fun and distraction of any type of play can be enough to help children relax and forget about small worries.
Problem solving – you can give your child an important sense of control by brainstorming with them to come up with problem-solving ideas. For example, if they are having trouble with some concept in their schoolwork some solutions could be to go over their homework with you or to ask their teacher about the part they don’t understand. Lead them to the solution but let them find it rather than dictating to them. This will give them confidence in their own problem-solving abilities, something that will become important when they faces these challenges again in future.
Listening – sometimes just a very gentle question such as ‘what are you worried about?’ can bring the problem into the open. Talking a worry through, or sometimes even just the act of having some hear their worry, can help a childhood stress melt away.
A good way to help children cope with childhood worries or stresses is to normalise them. This does not mean to dismiss what they are feeling, but instead to help them find their way to counteract it. This will not only help now but also give them the tools to deal with stress throughout their life.
1. Martikainen, S., et al., Higher levels of physical activity are associated with lower hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis reactivity to psychosocial stress in children. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2013. 98(4): p. E619-E627.