People believe that stress happens only to adults. There is surprise and disbelief in general when a suggestion is made that children too can suffer from stress. Some parents either over-react or shrug it off as a passing phase. Stress can occur due to many reasons. It could be due to the daily environmental factors such as traffic noise, crowding, pollution or the result of an unexpected demand made on the child. Each case is unique but one thing is for sure, stress is harmful to a child's well-being. This article shows the importance of de-stressing or reducing stress in a child.
Picking out signs of stress
First, watch out for lingering symptoms. Is the child consistently avoiding a certain situation? Is he frequently falling ill, complaining, seeking attention, sleeping poorly or experiencing nightmares? A visible sign of stress would be a drop in the child's immunity. Another indicator would be when a child resists going to school or avoids a particular subject like math.
Watch out for simple fibs, changes in food habits, and an inability to engage in meaningful learning. If your child is consistently irritable and complains too often that other children do not like him, stress is the culprit. Stress could lead to anxiety in the child.
Here are some ways to de-stress your child
Be empathetic and gentle on the child. Talk to him about your own experiences. When you relate to him with the heart and not with dictated expectations, he will open up.
Stress is a response to a gap in knowledge. If skill sets or information is provided, he would feel less stressed.
Make plenty of suggestions. This will make the problem look addressable and relieve stress. Give support, but do not become overbearing.
Talk to resource persons before rushing off in agitation to a professional. Anger seldom allows you to listen.
Relaxing exercises, an outing, or a game are great stress management activities.
Doing things together gives the child the confidence to share his views and anxieties. This is the biggest child stress buster.
Your child is being exposed to his world with your support. Make the home a happy place where he is celebrated and included. Involve him in decision-making. This will give him self-assurance. It is at home that the child inadvertently learns the skills required to face the challenges of the world.
ParentCircle provides a few more tips
Help children develop problem-solving skills when they are in school. Act out stressful school situations with your child through various role plays. This will make the child understand what the others are going through and teach him different ways of handling the situation.
Muscle-relaxation exercises calm children. Make the child sit in a chair or lie down. Tell him to tighten his fist and arm muscles. Let him open his hands, wiggle and relax his fingers. Let it go limp. This should be similarly followed up with the rest of his body, including face, legs and feet. Muscles loosen when periodically tightened and released.
Visualisation techniques during times of stress can calm children. It just involves changing the child's focus from the stress of the moment to a different, pleasant and peaceful situation. Re-focussing of energy can happen by closing the eyes and trying to visualise such pleasant scenes in great detail. For example, one could be in a football field or visualise a horse.
Reflective listening is another tactic. It involves rephrasing your child's comments to show him that you have understood what he has said. For example, your child might say, "Mom, when I have to do my math test, I feel sick." And you could say to him, "So, do you get butterflies in your stomach?" By reflecting back on what was said, you have shown him that you are really listening and that it matters what he feels, no matter what that feeling is. Such listening, in turn, encourages children to attach words to feelings. Verbalising feelings is important, as children cease to be overwhelmed by them.
'This too will pass' is something you can teach your child. She should realise that bad times come and go. She might feel low one day and better the next. Remember to tell her, "I am glad that today is a better day." Children then learn that stressful feelings do not last forever.
Related video: Here's a video on how only a mentally tough parent can provide support to a child.