In today’s fast paced world stress can take its toll on all of us but can be especially hard on children. We often downplay the impact stress has on kids by saying to ourselves “Kids are so adaptable, he/she will adjust”, but is this the fair or safe road to take? Let’s take a closer look at the impact of stress on children and some of the strategies that can be used to develop coping skills.
Stress is produced from a lot of sources both internally and externally. Examples of internal stress include low self esteem, poor body image, and in some cases depression. External stress can be generated from a variety of sources such as poor academic performance, bullying, serious illness, a death, or a sudden change in life pattern such as divorce or a move to another location.
The effect of stress shows up in various ways. Unexplained mood swings and loss or increase of appetite, poor performance in studies, withdrawal from family and friends, violent and destructive behavior towards self and others, verbal abuse, changes in sleeping habits, stomach issues, and lethargy are just a few symptoms.
Stress manifests itself differently in different individuals but you know your child and you know when something isn’t right in his behavior. The faster you pinpoint the problem the faster you can lessen the impact of stress related issues.
The first thing to do is start a conversation about what’s going on in their lives; this can be tough because children often don’t want to talk about what’s troubling them. Keep the conversation casual; you will quickly be able to tell the sensitive areas of their lives just by listening to what they do discuss and what they seem reluctant to talk about. Take your time and don’t push the issue too hard, eventually you will get to the bottom of it just by being a good listener and in return your child will feel more secure in talking to you about a variety of subjects.
When you are confident you have identified the source of your child’s stress then you can begin to work on strategies to combat its effects. General strategies that are recommended for all stress related issues are as follows:
*Make time everyday just to ask how their day went. Use this as an opportunity to start a conversation.
*Be a good listener and put criticism on the back burner.
*Make sure at least once a week you and your child do something purely fun. Have him or her show you how to play a favorite video game,see a movie, play a board game, or have a screaming water gun fight.
*Try to have dinner together at least three times a week with no distractions and focus on talking about the day and upcoming events.
*Make sure the entire family gets enough physical activity.
*Make sure your child is getting at least eight hours of sleep per night.
*Ensure proper nutrition is the overall norm.
Tackle self esteem stress by being supportive of your child and offering a little help. A new hair cut/style, manicure, or even a new outfit can work wonders. If a bully is the factor then discuss options such as involvement of school staff, using the buddy system when school is in recess or lets out for the day, or maybe even seeing if your child can switch out of classes that he/she shares with a bully.
Academic stress can be lessened by spending time with your child during homework sessions or even arranging for a tutor in a particularly difficult subject. If your child displays violent, destructive behavior then a consultation with your physician is in order. Your child’s doctor can direct you toward the professional help best suited to your situation.
You will never eliminate stress entirely from your child’s life but you can give them the proper strategies to cope and adjust.