While parents are hard at work dealing with the challenges of caring for and providing for their family they often look at their children and envy those days that in retrospect seem care-free.
But the truth is our children experience feelings of being stressed just as we do.
Although on a different scale, their stress is just as real and just as troubling. However, the real danger lies in the fact that children are not equipped to deal with feelings of being stressed. And as we all know, unchecked stressful emotions can lead to and manifest themselves into far worse scenarios… impaired physical health being the most dangerous.
Research shows that when a child experiences feelings of being stressed his first impulse is to ignore it. Because of their limitations, symptoms of stress such as anxiety, nervousness and tension are merely interpreted as “uncomfortable” and therefore instinctively become something to avoid.
Because they don’t have the skills or level of understanding to try to first make sense of it, second to verbalize what they are feeling and third to enter into a solution finding mindset, they simply choose to ignore it.
The stress of course does not go away and so it surfaces in different forms. Parents need to be alert to these times in order to guide their children through the process of successfully dealing with what is troubling them and causing them to feel stress.
10 Red Flag Warning Signs to watch for:
- Sudden change in temperament. (moodiness, outbursts)
- Drop in grades.
- Distancing from things or people they once enjoyed.
- Loss of appetite.
- Frequent complaints of not feeling well.
- Nail biting.
- Change in sleep patterns.
- Takes on an attitude of not caring.
When you see any of these signals in your child’s life they should be taken seriously and addressed immediately.
Children become stressed and anxious about things that they don’t completely understand or things they feel are out of their control.
Some of the things that may be at the source of your child’s stress:
- Any major change in their lives, ie: new school, close friend moves away, divorce, struggling with a specific subject in school, arrival of a new sibling.
- Pressure to perform, academically or athletically.
- Feeling inadequate.
- Peer pressure.
This is only a generalized partial list. Stress is as individual as the person itself. What will affect one will not necessarily be a source of stress for someone else.
The first order of business is to let your child know that you see that something is bothering them. This is only to be done in a non-confrontational manner. The initial goal is to alert your child to the fact that what they are feeling is real. That you are concerned and are there to help and ready to listen when they are ready to talk. To do this any other way would only serve to put more pressure on your child.
If they don’t immediately respond and share what is bothering them…let it be and wait for a specific time in which the changes you see occur. Use that teachable moment as an example pointing out that what transpired is typical of someone feeling stress. You might even share a time or two when you felt stressed and how it affected you.
Reassure them that what is behind the changes that are happening is most always something that can be worked through. Perhaps you can give example suggestions to see if you can help them identify exactly what is troubling them. Or it may be something that is obvious such as a divorce, change in location or school or some other major change.
Whatever it is, you must take on the role of detective (subtle and non-conspicuous) and gently help them work through the critical steps of reducing and eliminating what is stressing them:
- Identify the stressor.
- Name the feelings and emotions they are experiencing.
- Begin to formulate a solution to reduce their stress.
As many adults know, it is easy to choose to try to avoid and ignore things that bother us and cause us stress. Making the choice to ignore these feelings can be habit forming and when begun in childhood take on the risk of becoming a part of who they are.
It is imperative that parents watch for these times in their children’s lives to teach them the skills to identify their feelings, put them into words and then work to find a solution in order to move on to a more positive place.