Childhood Stress: What is it? What can I do?

School and fall schedules are approaching quickly ,and while children are adjusting, there may be bumps along the way. Although school is new and exciting, it can also be a source of stress for children and families. Signs of stress in children can include a negative or sullen attitude, irritability, sadness or anxiety. Children may behave aggressively or may withdraw. They may experience sleep problems, headaches, restlessness, gastro-intestinal symptoms, shortness of breath, muscle tension or fatigue and low energy. The media is a source of stress to children. Be aware of advertising aimed at children and the violence children are exposed to from the evening news or other television programming. Children are stressed when parents are stressed. Economic pressures, having no extended family close by for support and lack of time are challenges for parents. There are many great programs and activities available to children and families but over-scheduling can leave children stressed and parents overextended.

What can parents do? Structure, ritual and rhythm are all good stress relievers. Life is full of rhythm. The natural world, our bodies, household work and even the days of the week have a rhythm and structure. Children are in the process of developing their own natural rhythms. Supporting structure and routine helps reduce stress. Parents guide the flow of the day to meet the needs of their children. Eating dinner together and other family rituals are important.

Children need uninterrupted play time. A parent’s observation of their child’s play can give them insights into what their child needs. Limiting media frees children up for more play time and reduces the amount of time they are exposed to the light emitted from screens. Exposure to this light in the evening can interfere with sleep.

Children’s stress responds to physical touch. Take the opportunity whenever you can to touch and hold your child, even when they are asleep.

Take time for outdoor activities. It enhances children’s development and as a family relieves stress. Learning to rest and relax and teaching children to do this as well will serve them well throughout their lives. Yoga and breathing techniques can be learned by adults and children.

Stress can lead to serious anxiety in some children and require professional help. If your child has frequent physical complaints, prolonged sleep problems, avoidance or withdrawal, changes in behavior, frequent crying, difficulty relaxing and toileting or eating issues, seek the advice of a physician.

Source: The Worried Child, Paul Foxman.

Written by Joyce Williams RECE, Parent Support Coach