Children of all ages are exposed to stressful situations—both in the home and at school—but the consequences often go unnoticed by parents. Here’s how to detect the signs of stress in your children and help them manage it in a healthy way.
Notice the signs of stress in your child.
Don’t always rely on your kids to tell you when they’re upset. Familiarize yourself with the common signs of stress in children, such as:
- Changes in normal behavior. What is “normal” for one child might be unusual for another, so pay close attention to sudden shifts in your child’s behaviors. A social child may become quiet and withdrawn, while a reserved child may be more irritable and hyperactive.
- Disrupted sleep patterns. Frequent nightmares, insomnia, and even excessive sleep can be warning signs that your child is experiencing high stress levels.
- Difficulty concentrating. When children have a lot weighing on their minds, they lose focus and pay less attention to the world around them. As a result, their grades may start to slip, or they might stop participating in activities they once enjoyed.
- Changes in eating habits. Eating too much or too little, choosing junk foods over healthy foods, and becoming too attached to favorite meals can all be signs of stress.
- Becoming sick. Stress weakens the immune system, leading to higher chances of infection and illness. Anxiety can also manifest in physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, and muscle tension.
Talk to them about their feelings.
Encourage open dialogue in the home and talk to your kids about their emotions. Ask them open-ended questions about how their day went, what they learned in school, and what they’re looking forward to. Put specific names to feelings so that your child can learn to better identify them, and listen instead of interrupting or assuming when they express frustration over certain events.
Practice healthy coping strategies together.
Luckily, there are many ways to help children effectively deal with stress. Teach your child how to perform deep breathing exercises, meditate, and use grounding techniques like counting down from the number 5. Additionally, you can help them build confidence by showing them how to problem-solve and take control over tricky situations. You won’t always be around when your kids are in trouble, so give them the tools they need to successfully cope with stress on their own.
Find positive distractions.
You may already know that exercise helps reduce stress levels, but did you know that it also improves alertness, sleep, and self-esteem? Get your child up and moving by doing high-energy activities with them, such as dancing to their favorite song or playing a game of soccer at the park. If they’d rather stay still, worry not; watching a movie, reading a book, or drawing pictures are also great distractions from stressors.
Model successful stress management.
Children observe more than we give them credit for. They notice when you’re upset and pick up on the ways you manage it. Remember to take care of yourself and not just talk the talk when it comes to using the healthy coping methods you recommend to your kids.