Kids have it so much easier than adults, right?
That’s definitely what we’d like to believe.
I mean, don’t you remember being in kindergarten and having playtime, snack time, and a nap? Kindergarten was the best!
But, just because their lives seem like it’s all fun and games, doesn’t mean that kids are completely immune to stress. Some kids may have anxiety issues to deal with. Some kids may have parents who are divorcing.
So how can we, as parents and caregivers, help kids deal with stress?
Recognizing Signs of Stress in Kids
-Physical Symptoms: Stressed children may exhibit physical symptoms, such as diarrhea, hives or rashes, restless sleep, changes in appetite, and /or nausea.
-Emotional Psychological Symptoms: A stressed child may exhibit depression, excessive sensitivity, or social withdrawal. Stressed kids may be aggressive or have angry outbursts.
Those physical symptoms really aren’t that different than for adults. And for that matter, neither are the emotional symptoms.
But, unlike adults, kids don’t have the ability to develop coping mechanisms on their own. They need help.
What Causes Stress In Kids
One of the biggest mistakes adults can make is to think that kids have no reason to be stressed. Adults tend to think that childhood is carefree while stress sets in after age 21. While it’s true that kids don’t have to worry about paying bills, they do indeed have their own brand of stressors to deal with.
Children can experience stress from such things as family dynamics (divorce, fighting, tense relations between Mom and Dad, etc.), being bullied at school or harassed by a sibling, excessive homework, struggles with classes or subjects at school, certain teachers, and so on. Remember, your kids’ stress is likely to come from a source you are unaware of.
How To Help Kids Deal With Stress
-Listen: Really listen. You may ask your stressed child what’s wrong, or why he is acting a certain way, and you may not get an answer. Or you get an answer like “Nothing.” But really listening means paying attention to your child’s words and body language even when they don’t know you’re watching.
Certainly asking your child what is wrong is a good thing to do; it shows you care. But don’t interrogate her, or expect your child to be able to verbalize exactly what’s occurring in her life and how it’s affecting her. Even some adults have trouble with this. So try to “read” into the passing comments, complaints, and body language of your child.
-Express Empathy: If you express empathy, it shows your child that you do notice and understand. Verbally expressing empathy can also help your child build a vocabulary to explain his stressful feelings. 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 stress-causing person 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!
Stress in Preschoolers
Preschool stress is the response of a preschool child to physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual demands made upon the child. When the response is positive, the preschooler experiences eustress. When the response is negative, the child experiences distress. Both are stress: “eustress” is beneficial, happy stress; “distress” is unhealthy, miserable stress.
What Preschool Stress Is Not
1. Preschool stress is not the teacher’s demand that Sally come to the story circle and sit quietly. It is Sally’s response to that demand. Preschool stress relief must focus on the response.
2. Preschool stress is not the teacher’s demand that Bobby try again to count to 20. It is Bobby’s response to that demand. Preschool stress relief must focus on the response.
3. Preschool stress is not mother’s demand that Sasha stop crying when left at preschool. It is Sasha’s response to that demand. Preschool stress relief must focus on the response.
Preschool Stressors versus Preschool Stress
The most prevalent error in attempts at preschool stress relief is the confusion of stressors with stress.
1. Preschool stressors, on the one hand, are always present. They are an inescapable part of life. Preschool stressors themselves should never be viewed as the cause of stress. Stressors are simply demands made upon the preschool child in one form or another: to cooperate; to learn; to share; to comply with rules; to exercise self control; etc.
2. Preschool stress, on the other hand, is the preschool child’s response to demands made upon him or her. If the child willingly accepts the demands, a feeling of eustress takes over. Endorphins are released and the child is cheerfully compliant. Preschool stress relief is not needed for eustress. If the child rejects the demands, however, distress takes charge. Distress, the fight-or-flight mechanism, releases adrenaline and the child becomes combative or fearful, and non-compliant. Distress does call for preschool stress relief.
Underlying Reason for Preschool Stress
The ultimate, underlying reason preschoolers experience “distress” rather than “eustress” is their inner response to relinquishing control or having no one in control.
Preschool children, like adults, want control in their lives. They want and need boundaries. On the one hand, they don’t want someone else controlling their lives. They want to steer their own lives. The term “terrible twos” originates in the preschooler’s desire to be independent of outside control.
On the other hand, they want someone to exercise firm, loving control, and if the adult does not do so, the child will attempt it.
Stress relief techniques for a preschool child must understand and build on the underlying reason for stress if they are to succeed. Preschool stress relief must focus on the child’s determination to exercise control, or have firm control exercised over, all 4 areas of his or her own life: emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual.
Weeding Out Stressors
Preschool stress relief should not concentrate on wedding out stressors. The stressor is seldom at fault.
No matter how great, the stressor itself does not determine how the child responds to it.
So those are just some of the ways to help kids deal with stress. What ways can you think of?