How to Deal with Childhood Stress? Ways to Overcome Stress in Children

Expert strategies for both parents and children to help cope with stress.

By Richa Shukla

How to Deal with Childhood Stress? Ways to Overcome Stress in Children

Chirpy, talkative and naughty, 5-year-old Rahul would walk up to different people and invite them to play with him every evening in the park. But suddenly it all changed. He became unusually quiet and withdrawn. His mother didn’t notice it, but the regular visitors who were used to Rahul’s theatrics and charm did. Weeks passed and a fun, playful Rahul became more of an introvert and a recluse. Rahul’s mom failed to notice these changes in his behaviour. Much later, a caring persistent neighbor, convinced Rahul’s mother to take him for therapy. After weeks of intense therapy, it was discovered that Rahul had witnessed his father beating his mother, which led to changes in his behaviour. The symptoms were clearly of stress.

Every childhood experience has the potential to facilitate the development of a child in a positive and negative manner. This is because during the early years, children are very impressionable as their brains are developing at a rapid pace. The infographic, ‘The Truth About ACEs’ published in Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in May 2013 states that when damaging situations such as abuse (physical, emotional, sexual), neglect (physical, emotional) and household dysfunction (incarceration, domestic abuse, substance abuse, divorce) take place, the brain gets affected in the areas that are involved in the regulation and integration of hormonal, autonomic and immune responses. The occurrence and re-occurrence of a particular negative experience may begin to manifest in different forms as the child grows, such as behavioural, physical and mental health challenges, including depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse. It can also take the form of “classic” medical co-morbidities including obesity, stroke and cardiovascular disease. The infographic, ‘The Truth About ACEs’ published in Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in May 2013 states that the intensity of the stress increases with age and leads to stunted emotional development of the child.

Between the ages of 0 to 3, stress causes a child to become aggressive and angry. As the child grows, his cognitive, psychological and behavioural senses and reactions begin to develop. He becomes more aware of the stressful situation and responds to it unconsciously. However, stress manifests itself into more chronic anxiety as the child reaches elementary school

Sesame Workshop India puts across the following strategies for both parents and children to help them cope with stress:

Resilience

It’s important to build resilience so that the child learns how to handle difficult situations and is strong from within. The child needs to be able to take the negative emotions and build a constructive outlet through which he can express his unhappiness, anger, frustration or sadness. The article, Resilience, published in the Center on the Developing Child states that the single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult. These relationships provide the personalized responsiveness, scaffolding, and protection that buffer children from developmental disruption.

Sometimes, the presence of a comfort item also helps as it enables the child to feel better and focus more intently on doing exercises which will calm and adjust the mood. Breathing exercises, such as taking deep breaths (slowly opening one hand finger by finger on the inhale and slowly closing it finger by finger on the exhale), can help to establish a stronger sense of presence. Yoga can help children and adults develop self-regulation skills, deal with stress and calm their minds and bodies.

A specific space that offers privacy and comfort, such as a “cozy” or “calm” corner, can also help children cope with any kind of distress. It can provide a feeling of calmness and protection. Sometimes, it can even be imaginative, a place in a child’s mind that he wants to go to.

Forming trusting adult child relationship

If a child is in the presence of an adult who is caring and loving, it may allow the development of a bond based on trust. This relationship can be aided by caregivers through simple mechanisms which include communicating to children in a non-threatening manner and explaining to them that they will be cared for, no matter what, and that talking and asking questions is important. Parents must also look out for signs of any stress that the child may be showing through change in routine or behaviour and act upon it by speaking to them openly and showing them their support.

Understanding and recognizing feelings

Children are often unable to understand what is it that they are feeling and are not able to externally display this or articulate it. Parents can take help of some educative videos to help caregivers and children understand different feelings like anger, jealousy, fear, separation anxiety, etc.

These are some ways in which you can help your child cope with stress. Love, affection and trust build the confidence of a child and instill a sense of security within them. Parents must ensure that stress doesn’t come in the way of a healthy and happy childhood.

The author is a Content Expert at Sesame Workshop India.

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