Your child has been behaving differently for some time, but you don’t know why. Maybe it is childhood stress. Because stress also exists in the youngest, it is up to us to know how to identify it to help them.
Children can also experience stress. They are even more vulnerable to it than adults since they have little control over many aspects of their lives. Of course, you cannot eliminate all sources of stress, but you can increase your child’s sense of control and help him cope with stress.
1. What is stress (childhood stress)?
Stress is the body’s reaction to a new event or to something that is regarded as a threat. A reasonable amount of stress can, therefore, be useful as it allows you to adapt to the environment. For example, stress can give a child the momentum and motivation they need to learn and grow.
However, when stress becomes persistent, it can interfere with a child’s learning and development. This may have more serious repercussions on his physical and mental health.
2. Spot the signs of childhood stress
In children, the first sign of stress is usually a sudden change in behavior. He suddenly becomes irritable, aggressive, or on the contrary, more inhibited, sulking in his corner when he was not used to doing it before. A sudden change in attitude and / or temperament that can be ignoring.
Then, the child will start to devalue himself, denigrate himself, and have degraded judgment. He sucks and says he won’t get anywhere.
It is unusual for stress to manifest itself in addition to difficulty concentrating: because his anxiety uses a lot of energy and has difficulty focusing his attention.
At the same time, psychosomatic signals are also common in stressed children. As with adults, the belly is often the seat of anxiety, abdominal pain, nausea, digestive problems … Some children sometimes complain of headaches and fatigue. In those with chronic illnesses (asthma, eczema), symptoms usually worsen. These physical pains, without biological explanations, should not be minimized, because they are very real even if it is impossible to explain why the child is in real pain. It is his body that speaks for him.
3. Recognize the symptoms of childhood stress
It is not always easy to know for sure whether a child is affected by stress. However, if one or more of the following symptoms appear, it may mean that he is experiencing chronic stress:
- A change of mood;
- Marked irritability;
- Physical ailments, such as headache, stomach ache, nausea, tremors or a fast-beating heart;
- Sleep disturbances, such as nightmares, difficulty falling asleep, or frequent awakenings;
- Concentration problems;
- Learning difficulties at school;
- Separation anxiety;
- Refusal to go to school;
- Intense emotional reactions to minor events;
- A withdrawal into himself and voluntary isolation.
4. Causes of childhood stress
Any situation (lack of control, unpredictability, novelty, or threatened ego) can cause stress to the child. For example :
- The changing attitude of mom or dad who suddenly gets angry, impatient or quibbles with their child;
- A change of daycare, school, educator or teacher;
- A moving;
- Pregnancy at home or the birth of a brother or sister;
- Conflict at home, separation from parents or financial problems;
- A happy event, such as a vacation or the wedding of the parents;
- Hyperstimulation: an excess of organized activities, noise, screens, etc .;
- A change in eating habits.
Also, be aware that even situations that may seem trivial can cause stress for your child. For example, for a baby, a simple diaper change made by someone unusual or even the temperature contrast when getting out of the bath can be stressful events. It is, therefore, important to listen to your child.
5. How to recognize childhood stress
The manifestations of stress are very different from a child to another. They can be physical, behavioral, or emotional. For example, changes in your child’s attitude might tell you that he is under stress. So you are the best person to know when your little one is stressed.
A stressed child could, for example:
- Be more excited or withdrawn;
- To stutter;
- Cry or blink more often;
- Being aggressive or irritable;
- Making anger or opposing;
- Have trouble sleeping;
- Have appetite problems;
- Suck his thumb;
- Hang on to mom or dad (need to be reassured);
- Isolate yourself from others, be withdrawn;
- Fix the void;
- Complaining of stomach aches or headaches.
However, not all children are sensitive to every stress trigger the same way. The same situation can, therefore, cause stress for different reasons. A child may thus be stressed because a situation is new, and another because it is unpredictable. For example, moving might not be experienced the same way by different children, even within the same family.
6. What to do to relieve childhood stress?
Each child reacts to stress according to his personality, the context of the event, and his environment. Therefore, it is important to offer him support, comfort, and a solution adapted to his needs to help him cope with stress.
You can take action in your child’s environment to reduce sources of stress. However, in many cases, the solution lies in the way you and your child approach the situation. Knowing what is troubling them will help equip them with the right tools to deal with novelty, change, and conflicts that cause stress.
7. Help the child manage his stress
To help your child cope better with stress, you can also help him regulate his emotions. For that :
- Recognize that your child is experiencing an emotion;
- Tell him that his emotion is normal, without trivializing his reaction (e.g., “It’s true that it can be scary,” “I understand that it is annoying”);
- Help him put words to the emotion he is experiencing (e.g., fear);
- Explain to him that he cannot control the situation, but the way he reacts to it.
To reduce your child’s stress, you can suggest calm activities, such as yoga or meditation. In addition, most children will need to spend their energy to release some of their stress and feel better. Therefore, it is essential to get your child moving by allowing him to go for a run, play ball, etc. Free play and games that allow you to pretend are great ways for children to deal with stress.
8. When to consult about childhood stress?
Before running to a psychologist, take a step back. Talk about your observations with those close to your child: the teacher, the nursery staff. Are his behavioral changes similar at school? If stomach aches break out on school mornings but never again on vacation, it is very likely that school is the problem. Talk to your child and teachers to find out what could be causing this anxiety. If the situation worsens, talk to your general practitioner or your pediatrician who can guide you on what to do.
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Originally published on Live Positively.