Childhood Stress – Symptoms and Management
A child experiencing stress is his normal part of their learning and development. Stress is encountered in various stages in early childhood. A child should frequently be encountering new and exciting aspects of life to learn and better understand the world around them. Stress can be beneficial by helping children developing their skills needed to adapt to various intimidating situations. Childhood Stress does not become problematic until these experiences cause dysfunction in the form of physical harm or emotional distress. Common signs of dysfunctional stress in children are temper tantrums, fear, isolation, and anger.
Signs of Stress in Children
Stress in children shows up in different ways. There are a number of signs and symptoms that point to kids experiencing stress. Many of those signs are similar to how stress manifests in everyone else too. For example, many people experiencing stress have trouble sleeping or exhibit avoidance behaviors putting off important tasks, or retreating from activities they normally enjoy.
When the child is experiencing stress, they may also distance themselves from people they love or become extra clingy. They may also revert to behaviors that are not appropriate for their age, or they may develop real or imagined physical complaints like upset stomach, headaches, or exhaustion. The important thing is to ask questions and keep track of when typical behavior are happening and making a note.
Communication is the Key in Managing Childhood Stress
Communication is crucial. Sometimes kids avoid certain conversations or topics because they do not know how to start the discussion. Occasional anxiety is normal in kids, but prolonged anxiety or stress associated with a multitude of other symptoms may be tip offs to something more serious. Watch out for signs and symptoms of stress, just to reinforce in our kids that we care for them, and we care about the things that stress them. Routinely discussing how things are going, and openly addressing stress will help everyone in the family cope with it.
The Age Factor in Childhood Stress
A child who is under five shows stress by having a tantrum, meltdown or breakdown. School-age children may display stress by being snappy, angry or even bossy. Teens generally ‘hide’ their stress because if they are not heard when they are younger, and will not share their truth with their children as they grow.
Always consider what is going on when a child is acting out. Have they slept? Is it their nap time? Are they past the time they usually eat? Is there underlying stress in the house? Like dad working overtime and mom losing her patience more often. Or a death or tragedy in the family, they will act like things are normal only they will react to small things in big ways.
Parents Role in Managing Stress
Stress also manifests differently depending on how a child expects their parents to react. A child who learns that stress is unacceptable will ‘bury’ their fear deep down. It may turn into illness because it is not healthy to ‘stuff’ emotions. Children who grow up with parents who help their kids manage stress will be more likely to express themselves in healthier ways. They tend to feel safer sharing their stress and anxiety because they know their parents will support them rather than become reactive. Encourage them to develop positive habits to deal with childhood stress.
Tantrums and Childhood Stress
Children are not as transparent as adults. Adults when they are sad or mad or tired they are going to vocalize it or separate themselves from the situation. But children aren’t going to separate, and they probably won’t stay mad or sad for very long.
If a child does lashes out or throws a tantrum, it is a symptom but not usually the problem. Mad about getting a blue plate instead of a green plate. Don’t fight them over the blue plate or the green plate. They are telling you they are stressed. They could be picking up the stress from a fight going on between their parents or because they are tired or hungry.
Get past it as soon as possible and then get the children fed or get them the sleep they need. If there is stress in the house, get them out of the house. Take them to a park. Give them a reason to see you as a parent are happy as well. They don’t like parents stressing.
Meditation and Childhood Stress
Much in the same way that adults can benefit from practicing mindfulness through meditation and yoga, so can your little ones. Mindfulness can help children focus on the present moment, which can help curb any mood swings, impulsivity, release any self-doubt, and much more.
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