[Published by MomClick Utah and The Daily Herald here.]
Are you feeling all ‘stwessed’ out?
The other day, a friend took her 3-year-old daughter to the playground. After getting a big push on the swing, her daughter giggled nervously and said, “That makes me stwessed out, Mommy.” My friend smiled and said to herself, “Oh, to have the problems of a 3-year-old.”
This is a cute instance of a young child possibly imitating Mom’s words. It also is possible that this young child is already recognizing her body’s natural “fight-or-flight” response when something is not quite right. This young girl most likely felt a slight stomach ache as she swung, and she was able to verbalize how she felt.
Children do, indeed, get stressed just like adults. The environment in the home and how adult members handle stress contribute to the way children handle it also. Your children watch your every move, and they form habits and beliefs according to what they see.
How do you react to stressful events? Are your children watching you? Are you aware of your children’s stresses, and do you know how to help your kids? Here are some suggestions:
Signs your children may be experiencing too much stress:
• Tendency to become easily irritated, upset and tearful
• Temper tantrums and acting out too often and too long
• Sleeping difficulties including nightmares
• Complaints about stomachaches, headaches and other aches
• Concentration problems and inability to complete school work
• Trouble with friends (isolation from them or fighting too often)
• Bathroom problems
• New negative habits (nail biting, thumb sucking, nose picking, tics, etc.)
• Aggressive and defiant behavior at school or at home
What can parents do?
1. When you notice these signs, consider what is going on and whether you can make adjustments.
2. Ensure there is physical and emotional contact with your children every day. You can achieve this by playing and having fun with them. Let them choose the activity and let them be in charge. The rule should always be: “People and things cannot get hurt. If that happens, we’ll stop playing.” As you have fun with your children, you’ll strengthen your relationship with them. This will allow you to open the communication channels with them no matter what age your children are.
3. Make yourself available 100 percent when your children want to talk to you, even when you are in the middle of something “important.” In the long run, nothing is as important as your children and the relationship you can have with them.
4. Are you overbooking your child? I know a young mom who “hates” being at home all day. She reported feeling caged when she does. She decided to schedule a “fun” morning activity for her toddler every day of the week so they would both enjoy their week. By the time Wednesday rolled around, she had an irritable and cranky 2-year-old despite the naps he took every afternoon. She realized her son felt stressed and may have wanted to stay home and “relax.” She made adjustments and decided to only schedule “special outings” twice or three times a week. That seemed to suit her son.
What is it like for you and your children? Are your kids having too many places to go to after school? Piano, ballet, gymnastics, football and all the extracurricular activities have great benefits for your children’s development. However, there are times we become overzealous about their “progress” and often it backfires.
5. Be aware of your child’s needs and plan accordingly to prevent overbooking them. Just like you need to “recharge” after a long day at work, children need to do the same after school.
6. Try to maintain a routine. Children will develop more trust and confidence as you provide structure in their lives. When you expect changes in their routines, let them know what will be different and why. They need to know what is going on, whether they are adolescents or toddlers.
7. Be aware of your parenting style. A while ago, a couple brought their child to therapy because he was showing aggressive behavior that wouldn’t “go away.” After talking to the parents, I realized both parents were not on the same page. Mom was overcompensating for Dad’s authoritarian parenting style. The child was aggressive with all the family members except Dad. Instead, he was afraid of him. How are you doing with your parenting approach?
8. Talk to your family doctor or your children’s pediatrician for additional advice. If your child’s behavior doesn’t improve, it may be time to consider therapy. Find a child therapist who will help you and your child learn skills to alleviate your concerns.