Children experience stress from any number of situations – some you understand and others you may think are such small issues you can’t imagine why anyone would feel stressed.
But your children do experience stress and the way they express it can be much different than the way you do.
When my ex-husband and I first separated one of my girls had a very difficult time with the loss of her father in her everyday life. It didn’t help that he didn’t visit her more than every other weekend for less than 24 hours.
She has always been a child who turned inward when she was stressed or scared. She did it again. This time she started pulling out her eyebrows and eyelashes. We were in counseling for several months to help her find more constructive ways of reducing her stress.
Why they feel stressed and how they express it will be individual to them. As a single mom it’s a real challenge to watch out for signs in all your children, work, take care of your home and have your own life too.
Sometimes it’s just not possible. Sometimes things slip through the cracks.
In some instances your child may feel stress from positive experiences and other times it’s a negative experience that increases their stress level. You’ll have to watch for both types, because while positive stress may seem like it wouldn’t cause too many problems, it can.
Your children will be more likely to feel stressed when they’re exposed to multiple stressful situations simultaneously. For instance, if they are starting 7th grade at a new school and their mom started dating a new guy.
You are more likely to see expressions of stress if they or someone in the family has a serious illness or injury, if mom is stressed or if they are being abused. Abuse doesn’t have to be happening in the home. Teachers, bullies at school or coaches may be responsible.
Watch for negative behavior in your children. They may not go so far as picking out their eyebrows or cutting themselves. Even though their symptoms may be less severe, it doesn’t mean that the stress they’re experiencing is any less.
Watch for a negative change in their behavior. Your children may become angrier, start lashing out at you for no reason, get into fights at school, start acting more irritable or withdraw from the activities they enjoy.
Some children get headaches or stomach aches from stress. They may cry more, become clingy, refuse to go to school or get aggressive.
Every child will experience stress, and you may see some of these symptoms in your child. How do you know when the stress is getting too much for them and you should consider professional help?
YOU Are Your Child’s First Line of Defense
It’s important that you spend time with your child and help them recognize their emotions and learn to express them in a healthy way. They are going to have emotions that impact their behavior. That won’t change.
What can change is how they cope with the situations. These are skills they will be able to take with them into adulthood as their stressors have greater consequences.
- Spend time talking with your children and developing a deep relationship so they feel comfortable talking with you about the things that stress them out. Communicate how much you care about them and how you are their biggest fan.
- Listen to them and encourage them to talk with you about their concerns. And, because relationships are a two way street, talk about some of your concerns that aren’t overwhelming to you or to them. This helps them see your relationship as a two way street.
- Provide a safe environment at home. All children need to be disciplined on occasion but your discipline shouldn’t leave them wondering if you love them and care about them.
- Good nutrition and healthy exercise habits are incredible stress relievers for both yourself and your children. Participate in outdoor activities together.
- Try to use positive reinforcement when you see them doing something right, instead of only punishment when they do something wrong. You probably recognize that when your boss compliments your work you work harder the next time. The same is true for your children. They respond best to positive reinforcement – telling them when they do something right – than when you complain about what they’re doing wrong. It’s hard to do! You have to train yourself to watch for those times when you can compliment their behavior.
- Show an active interest in what they do, their hobbies, sports, and after school activities. If they’re in debate club, attend their competitions. Find ways to watch and participate.
Each of these suggestions just bring you closer to your children so when the hard subjects come up – and they will! – your relationship is strong enough to talk about them and confront the challenges head on.
Be a Role Model
You may not realize it, but your children are more likely to do what you DO instead of what you say.
If you want them to eat healthy, exercise and get quality sleep, then it’s important that you do too. If you’re taking pills to wake up in the morning, sleep at night or for chronic pain, they are more likely to reach for a pill bottle when the going gets tough in their little life.
If you stay up late every night and get up early every morning, burning the candle at both ends, they will too as they reach high school. If you talk about eating vegetable but snack on chips and ice cream each night, they will too.
And, if you can’t handle the stress in your own life without lashing out at the people who love you, overeating, drinking too much alcohol or taking pills, then they will too.
They see everything you’re doing, whether you think so or not. Think back to when you were a child. You probably knew when your parents were fighting, even if they weren’t fighting in front of you.
You are your child’s first line of defense. You’ll notice their stress before anyone else and you are in the perfect position to address their needs first.