To parents, childhood seems like one long party; free of the hardships and responsibilities of adult life; a colourful, carefree haven of play, socialising and fun. It’s a time that we all look back on fondly, secretly pining for. Kids have got it easy, it seems.
But in so casually dismissing childhood as some idyllic paradise, we also dismiss the problems and very real pressures and stresses that children can face on a daily basis; safe in the misguided presumption that your children have ‘nothing to worry about’. From fitting in at school or nursery, to feelings of inadequacy, academic pressures and body consciousness, in our image obsessed modern world children have more reasons than ever to feel confused, small and insecure, and it’s important that as a parent, you help them navigate the difficult and confusing path to adolescence.
Here are a few tips to help recognise the signs of childhood stress and ways you as a parent can help to combat it…
SPOTTING THE SIGNALS
The first and most important step to take is to identify the common signs of stress in your child. Some children will afford you the luxury of coming to you outright with their problems and worries, but a large proportion will be more inclined to bottle their feelings up inside, afraid of the consequences of sharing their fears and problems to you, often in fear of making things worse.
But these fears can still manifest themselves in a number of recognisable ways:
- AGGRESSION – Many children use anger as a way of coping with, or manifesting their repressed stress.
- SOCIAL REGRESSION/ QUIETNESS – Often children will become withdrawn or introverted when faced with intense stress or worry. Activities and social situations/friends that once used to thrill or excite them now barely elicit a response; more often than not this isolation is as a result of socially related stress; issues with bullying, fallings out or (with older children); possible issues of romantic attraction.
- MEDICAL ISSUES – Intense levels of stress in children can often result in minor medical symptoms; common varieties include headaches, stomach pain (or lack of appetite), insomnia (trouble sleeping) or chest cramps.
- SCHOOL PROBLEMS – another common reaction for a child undergoing stress is to either show a reluctance or flat out refusal to go to school. This affliction obviously isn’t strictly limited to stressed kids; the best words in the world to a child are often ‘school’s cancelled’, so as a sign of stress this can be particularly tricky to spot. A decline in your child’s grades/educational development at school or at nursery also something that can be affected by stress. Sudden or unexpected bad grades are often the result of stress either at school or at home.
WAYS YOU CAN HELP
So what can you do as a parent, to help your stressed out little ones? Well as with all of life’s problems the solution itself is always blissfully simple. Here are few ways to help alleviate or
- LISTEN! – Seems obvious enough but so few parents actually take the time to listen to, and interpret their children’s feelings. If done in a calm, non-judgemental and sympathetic manner, you may be surprised the amount you children are willing to share with you about their innermost thoughts. Remember; it’s always good to preface these chats with phrases such as “I promise I won’t be angry”, or “You won’t be in trouble”, as it establishes a blame free environment for your child to speak freely.
- REASSURE AND NORMALISE – The most crucial thing a child is looking for is reassurance. They can talk and talk and talk about their problems but if you don’t give the right responses, vocalise the support they feel they need and make them feel understood, then the stress will not go away. In a non patronising tone, keep reinforcing their feelings, saying things such as “I can see why you felt so sad, if Tom said that to you ” or “I know that it feels unfair, I’ve felt like that too!”. By sharing the experience, your little ones feel they are truly being heard.
- HELP TO REDUCE STRESS – this step is dependent entirely on the situation at hand, but your primary aim once you’ve established the problem, should be to help minimise that stress in the future. If the problem is “Mummy and Daddy fighting all the time” for example, take positive steps to work through your own personal issues in private and in a more child friendly tone. If the problem involves the pressures of school work and grades, offer to help your child with their homework or to better understand the problem subjects. A common cause of stress among children is academic pressure.
- Don’t fix everything – Although helping reduce your child’s stress is imperative, coping with stress is one of the most important skills a child will have to learn for the pressures of adulthood and employment. It’s crucial therefore, not to set the dangerous precedent that every stressful situation has an immediate solution, or that the best option is always to run to mummy or daddy, rather than trying to solve the issue themselves. So try and remain hands off until completely necessary; give advice and guidance but don’t hold their hand through every stage of stress and worry; this cotton wool won’t help in later life.
We appreciate that coping with childhood stress is never an easy situation, and there’s no worse feeling than knowing your little one is hurting. We hope our advice has given you some useful food for thought to ensure your household remains a happy and harmonious one.