Stress is usually something we associate with being an adult. However, children quite often are stressed without understanding what they feel. Children of all ages can be overwhelmed at some point whether it’s frustration at being unable to complete a task or just having too much in their everyday routines. It’s our job as parents and caregivers to recognise this and come to the rescue.
Some of you may still be thinking ‘children stressed…ha!’, but it’s more common than you think. The stress that we come across as adults may seem so much larger and more significant in comparison to what a child encounters. Their problems can seem small to us in the grand scheme of things, but they are smaller people.
The first thing that we as caregivers should be doing is recognising when our children are overwhelmed as it can be hard for children to recognise the emotions they are feeling. The first emotions we learn are ‘happy’, ‘sad’ and ‘angry’, so it can be frustrating for children who may be experiencing feelings of stress or anxiety when they can’t communicate this to us. If you notice a change in behaviour, ask and listen. Help them understand why they are feeling a certain way, and then focus on the positives and aid in finding a solution.
Our children can feel overwhelmed with school which may include anything from schoolwork and exams to changing classes and teachers. Over-scheduling; our children are expected to spend 6-7 hours a day focusing in school followed by extra-curricular activities that demand further concentration. Pressure; different children excel in different activities and sometimes they don’t understand that not everyone can be good at everything all of the time. If they are frustrated at not being top dog at a certain activity, reinforce that ‘it’s the taking part that counts’. While one child may not seem to grasp some activities, they will take like a duck to water in others.
Sometimes our moods rub off onto our children. Morning routines for most families can be tough, waking up late and rushing to get everybody fed and watered before they pile out the door. This manic start of the day can have a startling impact on your child’s mind set for going to school. Try to make sure you wake up with plenty of time and establish a routine that flows and avoids the odd morning disaster (annoyingly, we have all had them).
Encourage your child to take up hobbies/activities that they truly enjoy. Just as we all need a release, be it tennis, spin class or swimming, so do they. It’s good to let them focus on something that’s fun and allows them to relax. Sometimes this can be trial and error, taking them to different classes and letting them have a taste of different sports/activities, but the important thing is that they enjoy it.
We need to keep in mind that children are children. Within their own schedules of school, homework and hobbies they need some play time. Whether it’s reading their books, playing vets or jumping from couch to couch to save themselves from the molten lava on the carpet, they need to just be kids at times.
Allowing them to use their imagination, and be creative and playful are just as important for their development, and particularly helpful when you notice your little one is feeling overwhelmed or anxious. As they grow up they will naturally have all the pressures and strains that come with being an adult, they won’t be little for long. We need to allow them be children so try to limit stress to a minimum by talking to them about the feelings they are experiencing. Focus on the positives, make time for family down time by watching a movie or spending an afternoon at the beach, and above all, set a good example.