It seems crazy as I sit here, that I am actually writing a whole article on childhood stress. But if you are reading this and your child is stressed, then you are definitely not alone. Childhood stress is a very real thing indeed.
One in ten children in the UK now suffer from mental health problems including stress, anxiety and depression according to the Office of National Statistics and one million children in the UK between ages 5-15 suffer from stress according to the children’s mental health charity Young Minds.
Let’s just take a moment to process that information.
I don’t know about you, but I am hugely concerned by all of this. So how do we – as parents – spot that a child is stressed and what do we do about it? Today I have Dr Rubina Mian, research scientist in the field of children’s health and author of The Stress Goblin’s Hat – a picture book for children aged 3-7 to help them identify and cope with stress……to help us unravel this hugely important topic.
Please note that the following is not intended to be medical advice. If you have any concerns consult your GP or expert practitioner.
If a child is stressed, what are your top tips for reducing that stress?
Ways of dealing with stress vary with each circumstance and each child. For example an activity that may be therapeutic for one child and may cause anxiety in another
For bereavement and suicidal thoughts consult an expert immediately.
Here are my top general tips for children to deal with everyday stress:
Don’t over schedule extracurricular activities. Allow children time to talk and unwind. Ask them what worries them. Discuss their fear and worries.
Allow children to play without pressure. Combine with outdoor activities for example simple activities like riding a bike, exploring the outdoors.
Make sleep a piority
Sleep is essential. Create an environment that facilitates sleep. Keep electronic devices, mobile phones and TV out of a child’s bedroom. Reduce exposure to blue light from electronic devices. Consider blackout curtains.
Listen to their body
Teach children to listen to their bodies. For example explain it is perfectly normal for our hearts to beat a little faster when we encounter new experiences or a balloon bursting.
Fear of making mistakes
For many children a great deal of stress comes from fear of making a mistake or letting their parents down. Help children understand that it’s okay to make a mistake. Parents and teachers should be aware that children pick up on their fears and anxieties and it’s best to manage these in a consistent way.
If you feel your child is stressed and suffering from a high degree of stress or an anxiety disorder consult your GP who may refer you to a specialist. For bereavement & suicidal thoughts consult an expert immediately.
What are some reasons children may become stressed?
Children become stressed for all sorts of reasons. Even very young children are affected by worries and difficult situations around them. These situations can be related to other children, school work or lie within the family. Or they may have witnessed something scary. Children can ‘read adults’ and peers’s faces and pick up worries without others noticing.
What are some indications that a child may be stressed?
It is worth keeping an eye out for any changes in a child’s routine such as sleep (delaying going to bed, late in getting off to sleep, waking in the middle of the night, complaining of nightmares). Here are some pointers:
- A child can look sad, withdrawn or irritable.
- They may complain about physical symptoms such a tummy aches. It is important to first exclude a physical health cause and not to challenge the child as they are not making symptoms up.
- They may avoid going to school.
- They made avoid activities and food they usually enjoy.
- They may look angry or have outbursts without a clear reason.
- They may overreact to minor problems, become clingy or have drastic changes in academic performance.
Most of the time a child who is stressed will present one or more of the above problems.
How can we help our children manage stress?
Stress is about perception. Once put into context, children will realise that many of the situations (such as tests, making new friends etc) although very real to them can be handled and controlled. Professional counselling needs to be brought in when appropriate, but for everyday stressors , talking to your child is the key.
Is there anything we should avoid doing when our children are stressed?
This will vary with each child. Each child is unique. Each child is different and what stresses and de-stresses a child will be as individual as the child.
If your child is stressed, it is important to talk to children and try and understand what is causing them to feel stressed. Children pick up on adults fears so try and avoid talking of troubles at work, worrying about a relatives illness, finances, family arguments and conflict in front of an already stressed child. Also be aware that children may worry about loved ones if they hear or see disturbing images in the media. It’s important to let your children know that you understand they are stressed and don’t dismiss their feelings as inappropriate.
If you had to give a pep talk to my readers whose children might be experiencing stress it would be:
We all get a little stressed from time to time. That’s perfectly normal. Stress becomes a problem when it starts to get in the way of day to day life, when it’s not short term and it’s not just an occasional thing. If your child is stressed, severe stress can harm children’s mental and emotional well being.
The key is to talk to children and use story telling and characters to explain stress. For example in ‘The Stress Goblin’s Hat’ ask if they have ever felt the Stress Goblin’s Hat land on them? How did they feel? Did their heart beat faster? Did they feel hot? Did they cry? Were they upset?
Anything else you’d like to add?
Each child is different and what stresses and de-stresses a child will be as individual as the child. If your child is stressed, explore what makes your child feel better? Hobbies? Sports? Exercise? Music? Dance? Games? What are their favourite smells? Familiar childhood smells associated with good experiences can relieve stress.
For example in the West the scent of vanilla or childhood sweets is often found to be calming. Favourite foods, sounds, people, TV characters, comedy, cartoons and jokes are just some of the things that can help take stress away. Research has shown that laughter can reduce stress levels and can even boost the immune system. It’s worth exploring what works for your child. Never underestimate the power of fun.
If your child is stressed, I really hope the above tips will help you support them during their times of stress. In today’s fast paced and complicated world, the general stress levels among children is something that I really worry about. But if we as adults and parents have the right tools in our toolbox to help them decompress, then that’s something that is absolutely invaluable to everyone.
Is your child stressed? Or perhaps you worry about their stress levels in the future? Do share in a comment below.