Helping children cope with stress

Unlike popular belief that children live a carefree life all the time, they, just like adults, can experience stress. As a parent you have to not only learn when your child is stressed, but you also have to equip him with skills to enable him develop healthy ways to cope with stress and solve everyday problems whenever they arise.

It is not always easy to recognise when children are stressed out. However, short-term behavioural changes such as mood swings, acting out, changes in sleep patterns, or bedwetting can be good indicators. Some children experience physical effects, including stomachaches and headaches. Others have trouble concentrating or completing schoolwork. Still, others become withdrawn or spend a lot of time alone.
Younger children may pick up new habits like thumb sucking, hair coiling, or nose picking; older kids may begin to lie, bully or defy authority. A child who is stressed may also have nightmares, become clingy, overreact to minor problems, and exhibit drastic changes in academic performance. If you suspect that your child may be suffering from stress, here are ways to help them deal with it.
Learn to pay attention to your child. Try your best to listen to your child and to also take them seriously. Sometimes children are afraid of opening up to adults because they feel that they will be dismissed and not taken seriously. Probe your children from time to time and ask them how they are and if there is anything bothering them. Listen attentively and calmly with interest, patience, openness, and concern. Avoid any urge to judge, blame, lecture, or say what you think your child should have done instead.
Tell your child when you notice that something is bothering him or her. If you can, name the feeling you think your child is experiencing. Make it a casual observation with the intention of hearing more about your child’s concern and take your time to listen and let your child take his time too.
Put a label on it. Many children lack words to describe their feelings. If your child seems angry or frustrated, use words that will help them learn to identify the emotions by name. Putting feelings into words helps children communicate and develop emotional awareness – the ability to recognise their own emotional state. Children who can do so are less likely to reach the behavioural boiling point where strong emotions get demonstrated through behaviour rather than communicated by words.
Equip your child with problem-solving skills. As a parent, it hurts to see your child unhappy or stressed. Rather than trying to fix every problem your child faces, help him acquire problem-solving skills. One of the ways to do this is by encouraging him to think of a couple of ideas that are possible solutions to whatever problem he is facing and share with you. You can start the brainstorming if necessary, but don’t do all the work; instead, allow your child to actively participate in the discussion.
This will build his confidence at finding his own solutions to challenges. Don’t give the problem more attention than it deserves. Once your child has identified how to solve it, move on to something more positive and relaxing.
Limit stress where possible. If certain situations are causing the stress, see if there are ways to change things. Proper rest and good nutrition can boost coping skills as can good parenting. It is also necessary for you to create quality time for your kids daily. Sometimes kids just feel better when you spend time with them doing fun activities. Also, reduce the pressure to make your child succeed at everything. For instance, he may not be good at studies but he is good at sports. Support his talents even as you acknowledge whatever little improvement he may show at his studies. Allow your child to be simply a kid by accepting and embracing his mistakes and imperfections instead of pushing him to be a high achiever.

Published April 2017…