Children can have Stress
I remember my parents asking me ‘What are you so stressed out about? You’re a kid. You have nothing to worry about’ when I was a girl. So growing up I believed that kids don’t have stressful lives.
As a mom who was abused and unfortunately let her child witness a lot of this abuse, I think different now. Children can have stress, and deal with it in a way that comes across as childish and annoying. Today I wanted to talk about that and how to help your child deal with it. Because while children can get stressed out, it isn’t good for their growth and development.
When It Gets to Be Too Much
Some stress is normal for kids. They are still being exposed to so much and learning everyday that it is inevitable. But there are circumstances that can bring in extra stress, and too much stress is not good. Not for adults, and not for children.
In our case, Gregory was exposed to domestic abuse, was removed from my care, we’ve moved 8 or so times since he was born and currently he doesn’t see his dad. That’s a lot for a three year old to deal with. It wasn’t the life I had ever wanted to give him, but it’s our story and we are doing the best we can with it.
I have been working hard at my own mental health alongside Gregory’s and noticed that coping mechanisms I have for dealing with stress can sometimes help Gregory. And vice versa. But everything with Gregory is just a little bit harder to manage because he is a still a baby… Well not really. But he has just turned three, and that is basically a toddler still.
He doesn’t know enough words to articulate what he is feeling or experiencing. Most the time his feelings are big, bigger than his little brain and body can handle. And while I am not always perfect (I have my bad days too) I have been working hard at helping Gregory understand that his feelings are valid and I can help him work through them when he is ready.
How Stress Presents in Kids
There are many ways kids can show that they are stressed out, but keep in mind that some children may be good at hiding their problem or don’t even present symptoms you can easily see. Every child is different, every environment is different, and everyone has different stressors. Here are some ways a child may show that they are stressed out.
- Upset stomach
- Loss of appetite or always hungry
- Difficulty sleeping
- No longer feeding themselves
- No longer walking by themselves
- Taking steps backwards in potty training
- No longer speaking
- Wants old security pacifiers or blankets
- Can’t relax
- Quiet, lack of participation
- No longer interested in things they regularly enjoy
- Not wanting to go to school
- Trouble with relationships between family and friends
- Acting out
- Drug/alcohol abuse
- Self harming
Of course some of these depend on the age of the child. My kid doesn’t go to school, nor knows about drugs and alcohol. Remember not everything listed may apply, and some things that I didn’t list will.
Rad Tip: make sure that when you are trying to help your child deal with their stress, you look at it from their point if view and take the problem seriously. Validation is key.Does your potty trained kid suddenly have many accidents? Are they under a lot of stress? For real, read about it. Click To Tweet
Where Does Stress Come From?
Stress can come from many factors in life. A poor nutritional diet is one. Eating whole foods and keeping the body balanced is important for children and adults alike.
Moving to a new home or school can also be very stressful. Children like consistency. In our case, moving was a matter of safety. Even if you haven’t moved around, starting school for the first time can be very difficult and scary.
Keeping with the school theme, having difficulties with school work, bullies, feeling different than their friends and problems with teachers can cause stress in school aged kids. Bullying is a serious issue that everyone should inform their children about. So that they are better prepared if they become bullied, and so they will recognize if they have become the bully.
Having too much to do can cause kids stress. School, clubs, sports, family, homework, friends… It’s a lot for a kid to manage. Children need down time, they need quiet free time to decompress and just be a kid.
Fighting and arguing between family members is very stressful. Home is a child’s safe place. And while most siblings get in regular spats, they usually grow out of it as they get older. Domestic abuse is an extremely stressful situation for children and can change their brain hardwire. Children who witness abuse can suffer from PTSD.
And while I decided I no longer could let Gregory witness domestic abuse, leaving his father and breaking up our little family has most likely also caused him a lot of stress. Even when I was trying to make the best decision for Gregory, I still managed to bring stress into his world.
But I love Gregory, and I let him know that. And I tell him dad loves him, and Grandma and Aunti and cousins and everyone else. He knows he is loved, cared for and never is alone. Kids who feel alone and unloved can suffer a huge amount of stress. Children need love and nurturing.
Ways you can Help Your Kids Deal With Stress
- Spend time with your child
- Listen when they talk to you
- Try to understand how they feel
- Show your love and affection with words, hugs and kisses
- Make your child feel like they belong in the family
- Cook healthy meals
- Exercise/get active regularly
- Enjoy the outdoors together
- Talk about feelings
- Ensure child is getting adequate sleep
- Create routines (morning, bedtime, dinner)
- Make time for family bonding and play time
- Learn to manage your own stress
You Can Always Help
If you think your kid may be stressed out, ask them how they feel. Help them calm down and take a few breaths to ground themselves and talk it out. Ask how they feel, why they think they feel this way and what did they want to happen.
Figure out how big the problem is, chances are it isn’t really that big if a deal in the grand scheme of life. But to that itty bitty person, it probably means a whole lot. Listen to their words, come up with a solution and execute it together. You can ask if it helps, if it didn’t, try another solution.
Not all problems can be fixed. I mean, if my kid screams for a candy bar at the checkout counter after I have said not today and I have already attempted to help him calm down, I let him cry. Not every scenario is going to be a walk in the park. He is still a kid, and that is not stress, it’s a tantrum.
When he screams for a candy bar, we talk about how much he wants it and that it does look good, but mommy doesn’t have the money today and we can go home and have a snack instead. Most days he understands, some days he screams bloody murder. We all have some days that are worse than others.
If you are headed to your local library or maybe wanting to even purchase a few books to help you out during this stressful time, I highly recommend Calm Down Time by Elizabeth Verdick. I’ve written a bit about it and a few other books that are for children that cover the topic of physical violence. At the end of each book is a great parenting section that gives you, the parent, tips on how to use the book and better communicate the message of the books across to your kid. I found these books super helpful, and we still use our Calm Down Time methods.
Before you Go
I use this stress management for Gregory everyday. It’s a way for us to communicate and manage the hard times we go through. Whether it taking a few deep breaths in a moment if hot air is rising, or going to regular hikes and eating clean for prevention, we are managing much better now than we were 6 months ago.
The truth is, kids can be stressed out, and they can learn to manage their stress. They can learn how to take control of difficult emotions and use these skills for the rest of their lives, building upon them to become amazing adults.
I hope you have taken a few ideas from here today to help make yours and your childs life more manageable. Every has a right to experience their emotions, and all emotions are valid. These big and powerful emotions don’t have to debilitate is or them though. We can learn and live better lives.