Symptoms of Stress in Children
How well did your children cope during back to school season? Understandably some sailed through easily, but perhaps others experienced tears and stress of varying degrees during this vulnerable transition.
A child’s tears and stress isn’t easy for parents to deal with, particularly when there may be bigger stressors to handle such as work pressures, financial dilemmas or relationship complications. It’s tough being a parent, juggling stressful issues, running a home and caring for your children in the best possible way.
Tips to help parents identify and cope with a stressed child:
First and foremost, it is important to understand that regardless of a child’s age, they instinctively sense their parent’s emotions especially stress (including anxiety, panic, fear and worries). Although children may not have the capacity to discern why their parents are stressed, children are acutely aware of it – they feel it, hear it, see it and then, act it out. Essentially, the more stressed the parents are, the greater this can impact a child, and in a variety of ways.
Children are like sponges; they literally absorb whatever is happening in their environment. Have you noticed how they mimic their parent’s behaviour, habits and repeat commonly used phrases, including bad language? Essentially all children are products of their environments.
Other than becoming stressed because Mom or Dad may be stressed, children also learn their stress coping skills from their parents. In other words, the more effectively a parent handles their stress related issues, the better equipped the child becomes in dealing with stress. It is of paramount importance that parents are adequately equipped with stress coping skills, not only for their personal benefit but for the sake of the children’s health and wellbeing too.
Become mindful of how your stress may be affecting your child and their consequent behaviour. Most parents or caregivers can identify a child’s stressed behavioural issues because these behaviours are visible, and may be witnessed by others.
Typical stressed behaviour can include: crying, whining, poor listening, daydreaming, nail biting, fighting with friends and family, being overly cautious, poor school performance, lack of appetite or eating more than usual, disturbed sleep with frequent nightmares or bedwetting.
If a child is experiencing stress, their bodies, minds and feelings are also naturally affected. This is the same for adults too. Stress can result in the above kinds of behaviours, but physical, mental and emotional symptoms also occur when a child is experiencing stress. These signs may not be as obvious as the behavioural signs, but they are there. For example, you might notice some of the behavioural signs above when a child is feeling afraid about not being able to keep up with school work or participate in sports.
Possible symptoms of stress in children can include:
- Physical signs: tense muscles, headaches, stomach aches, rapid heartbeat, being cold, skin rash, shakiness, disturbed sleep, fatigue and illness.
- Mental signs: poor concentration, whirling mind, forgetfulness, difficulty problem solving, being easily distracted, confusion, being irrational.
- Emotional signs: fear, anxiety, frustration, sadness, anger, being overwhelmed, panic, extreme sensitivity, irritability, helplessness, hopelessness, being threatened.
As most working parents are preoccupied with the demands of life it’s understandable the subtle nuances of a child’s stress symptoms may go unnoticed. That’s OK, don’t be hard on yourself!
Tips to reduce yours and your child’s stress:
- Simplify your life by reducing the amount of stress related issues experienced on a daily basis.
- Learn stress techniques to help you cope with the life’s unavoidable stress (refer to my Stress Gone! book)
- Encourage your children to communicate the stress they experience.
- Continually affirm your love and support to your children (verbally and physically) – this keeps them feeling safe and secure.
- Dedicate quality time to your children on a daily basis i.e. driving to and from school, meal times, attending their sporting activities etc. During this time ensure your attention is purely on your children - switch off radio, mobile devices and TV distractions.
- Share at least one family meal per day together around the dining room table (without TV or mobile devices). Bless the meal together. Engage in wholesome conversation that unites the family while each shares their daily activities. Encourage dreams and aspirations to be shared but also discuss pertinent family issues. This simple strategy helps keep a family bond strong and united.
To be fair, parenting is never easy - children aren’t born with manuals or personality profiles. Parenting is challenging, stressful and often a thankless ‘job’, although also rewarding too. Most parents parent the way they were parented and therefore are only doing the very best they can, whilst also trying to juggle life’s other challenges too.
Wishing you and your family a happy, loving and relatively stress-free lifestyle as you all bond and grow together. May your journey together create many beautiful and wonderfully treasured memories!