Babies depend on their caregivers to meet all of their needs, and when you respond with love and sensitivity, they will grow to feel secure and safe. Still, even the most secure-feeling children will sometimes feel stress in their lives.
Stress is the way our body reacts to different problems and challenges. Sometimes, small things or events can cause stress in children.
Children don’t have as much experience handling stress as adults, so they will need your help and guidance to manage their feelings. But what exactly can you do to help?
Recognize when your child is stressed
Remember, each child is unique and may react in different ways. Some signs of stress are when a child:
• has a lot of trouble paying attention or even responding to his name;
• has a lot of trouble doing the simplest things;
• is very crabby when he wakes up in the morning or never seems to be happy during the day;
• argues a lot or seems to want to oppose your wishes, however reasonable these might be;
• gets angry a lot, or too angry, or resorts to hurtful words or even violence;
• is highly impulsive and easily distracted;
• has a great deal of trouble tolerating frustration;
• has difficulty:
~ sitting still
~ going to bed
~ thinking through even the simplest of problems
~ getting along with other children
~ having any positive interests
~ turning off the TV or stopping the video game
(from Calm, Alert and Happy by Dr. S. Shanker, York University)
Some possible stressful situations for young children include:
• Welcoming a new baby in the family;
• Experiencing a change in routine or feeling insecure;
• Attending a new school, or having a new teacher or bus driver;
• Being overstimulated;
• Learning a new skill;
• Making a choice when there are too many choices.
Try to reduce them for your child.
How can you help reduce the stress
that your child is feeling?
• Be aware of your own stress and set a good example of how to deal with stress.
• Be sensitive to your child’s feelings.
• Discuss issues when you are feeling calm and in control.
• Have steady routines.
• Set limits on the number of organized activities your child does.
• Provide a safe and secure home life; be aware that children may overhear parents discussing or arguing about a problem.
Help your child recognize what it feels like to be calm, focused and alert
Use words to name and define each feeling. Help your child to get back to a calm state when needed:
• Give them cuddle time.
• Talk to them in a calm soothing voice.
• Dim the lights to lower the level of stimulation.
• Have quiet time: reading, making a craft or a puzzle. Children will often talk about a problem when given the chance.
• Tell your child a story that is close to what your child is going through.
• Ask them to tell you how the person in the story is feeling. This may help them express what they are feeling.
• Listen to their feelings first, then choose how you will respond to their behaviour.
• Have your child draw a picture of their feelings.
Remember that children need to learn how to cope with small amounts of stress. As a parent, your job is to show them love, teach them and keep them safe.
Do you have more questions?
There are a variety of services to make it easier for your child to grow up healthy in Ottawa:
• Speak with a public health nurse. Call 613-PARENTS (TTY: 613-580-9656)
• Email ParentinginOttawa@ottawa.ca
• Connect with a public health nurse and other parents on our Facebook page.
• Visit with a public health nurse at one of the Parenting in Ottawa drop-ins.
Kathryn Robideau is a public health nurse with the City of Ottawa.