It’s easy to forget how it feels to be a kid sometimes. You look back on your childhood and remember only the good times. But kids can feel stress too and it’s important that you recognise how major life changes can impact upon your child’s wellbeing.
Are they acting differently?
Sometimes a tantrum is just a tantrum but other times it’s a sign of something more. Lizzie O’Halloran, founder of Help For Mums, says prolonged changes in your child’s behaviour are a good indication something is bothering them.
“A change in your child’s behaviour (e.g. finding it difficult to make decisions, or excessive worry about making mistakes) and emotional responses (e.g. more snappy/curt with you) are the clearest signs of stress. Get to the heart of the stress. If it’s performance based, book them into personalised coaching (e.g. with sports professionals, study coaches, or academic coaches). If it’s personal, work on building self-esteem and self-confidence through positive role-modelling healthy self-esteem, reinforcing their strengths and past positive achievements and ensuring they engage in healthy lifestyle behaviours, such as counting back from 5,4,3,2,1 when they feel really worried, keeping their diet ‘clean’ to avoid the negative mental effects of poor diet and engaging in regular physical activity to boost mood.”
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Check in with their school
With school age children it’s hard to fully understand what they are going through when they spend a solid portion of the day away from you. If you think your child might be undergoing some stress ask their teachers if they’ve noticed any changes as well. Author and parenting expert Elly Taylor had this to say:
“One sign of chronic stress is when school marks start declining, so often a teacher, rather than a parent, is the first to know. For this reason I advise parents who are going through a stressful time (chronic illness, house move, separation etc) to let their children's teacher know so they can be supportive and cut them a bit of slack. Otherwise, assignment deadlines, high academic expectations (from either parent or teacher) or failing grades can become yet another source of stress for the child.”
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Some coping mechanisms
Watching your child faltering is tough but there are things you can try to help them through to the other side. Ensuring they sleeping enough and eating well at this time is essential. Adding in ample exercise is proven to reduce stress in both children and adults. For a fun, unstructured afternoon get them active with a MyDeal climbing frame or outside on the backyard playground.
It can be hard to come home after a long day and prioritise time with your kids but doing this shows them how much you care. Here’s 4 more quick ways to help them through a difficult time:
1. Listening/dancing to music
2. Deep breathing exercises & meditation
3. Talking through their worries
4. Engaging them in playtime
Remember stress is normal
It’s important to remember that dealing with stress is a normal part of life and growing up. The fact you’re noticing stress in your child doesn’t mean you have failed them. As parenting coach Elisabeth Stitt reiterates, it’s what you do about it that makes the difference.
“The important thing to remember is that the source of stress might be a good thing--like the child is learning a challenging new cognitive, social or emotional skill. If the manifestation of the stress tapers off in a couple of weeks, then just reassuring the child that things will get easier and you are there for him should be enough, though with kids of all ages making sure they get some active, boisterous play every day will make a big difference. I used to chase my 12 year old around the kitchen while trying to hit him with a pillow. Even though he groaned and rolled his eyes at me, you could feel the tension lift as he went down the hall to study for a test.
Finally, the very best step you can take to reduce stress in your family is to make sure the whole family is getting enough sleep. Check the sleep charts: School aged children need 9-11 hours of sleep. A good first check is whether or not family members are waking up on their own. Ideally, the alarm is a sign to get out of bed and into action--not the sound that is rousing you from your sleep. If your child is exhibiting consistent signs of stress, look to their getting an hour more of sleep a day than they are currently. If that makes a big difference in your child's disposition and ability to function, make that extra hour of sleep the new standard.”
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We all feel stressed sometimes and we all handle it differently. Helping your kids build coping mechanisms young will prepare them for every kind of curveball.