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Helping Children Deal With Stress

Helping Children Deal With Stress
Children do not manage stress like adults. The younger the child, the smaller are the stress-causing agents. Even a rearranged classroom or a substitute teacher can stress children out. Young children do not have the ability to identify or express their feelings of stress. They struggle with their emotions and the only way stress can be detected in a child is through behavioural changes. Frequent melt-downs, sleeping problems or nightmares, clingy behaviour, refusal to go to school, acting younger than their age, bed-wetting, stomachaches and headaches are signs that your child may be experiencing too much stress.

Children under stress also tend to lose their patience, their love of fun and their easy-going ability. At these times, they tend to do things that don't make sense. They'll begin to squabble, to insist on having things someone else has or demand one thing after another, without gaining satisfaction. At times like these, you need to play a very positive role by setting limits to your child's behaviour. When you think your child is being unreasonable, here are the steps to follow.

LISTEN
Get down so you are at eye level and simply ask what's going on. Ask your child to tell you why he/ she is yelling. Children need to talk about what’s upsetting them, if possible, to someone who isn’t upset too.

LIMIT
If your child continues to exhibit unreasonable behaviour, you must step in. Tell your child what you think is reasonable and then make sure that the unreasonable behaviour doesn't continue. If your child is yelling at someone, ask him/ her to stop. If he/ she doesn't stop, take him/ her to another room. No punishment is needed, no lectures are needed and no harshness is needed. Simply step in. Children who are under stress can't think clearly. They can't process what we tell them, so they don’t do what we ask. You must expect this and step in, gently but firmly, to see that they don’t continue to do irrational things.

STOP
This is the "stress release" step - the one that will help your child immensely. After you have stepped in to prevent the child from doing things that don't make sense, your child will most likely begin to cry, storm out or throw a tantrum. At this point, this can be regarded as a constructive sign. It is your child's way of getting rid of the tension that made him/ her unreasonable in the first place. Let your child regain the ability to listen, be cooperative and make the best of the situation at hand before you allow him/ her to join others or continue what he/ she was doing.

TIPS TO REDUCE STRESS
  • Help children put words to their feelings. Ask them if they feel nervous, scared or worried. Ask them what is making them feel that way.
  • Acknowledge children’s feelings and encourage the use of positive statements.
  • Introduce stress management techniques like breathing, positive statements and visualising on a regular basis.
  • Establish a bedtime routine that helps children relax. Soothing music or relaxing stories always help. Playing soothing music at bedtime also promotes sleep and relaxation.
  • Spend reassuring quality time with your children.
(Image courtesy ThinkStock)

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