I look at my children while sipping coffee every morning; they are usually busy playing with their dinky cars, racing them over pretend roads and bridges and running around the house with glee! Only too happy to care for anything or anyone around them! This is bliss, I think! No errands to run. No bills to pay. No deadlines to honor! There is nothing they need to worry about! But it is not entirely true. Even very young children have worries and feel stress to some degree.
What are their worries?
Children, like adults, experience stress too. It can come from various sources – ‘perceived’ expectations of their parents and teachers, making and sustaining friendships or academic performances in school. Kids feel stress as a result of certain expectations or demands placed on them. But it also comes from within, as a result of what they think they should be doing as opposed to what they are able to do. Some stress is good for kids because it can drive them to do better and push them to realize their full potential. A little anxiety before an exam or a sports event can affect their performance in a positive way. But too much stress, however, can create unnecessary challenges and hardships.
Here are some tips which will help you recognize possible signs of stress in your children:
Look out for any drastic changes in their behavior patterns
Children are unable to recognize, verbalize or communicate feelings of stress effectively. They often internalize these feelings without properly understanding them. When unduly stressed, children become irritable, moody and lose interest in things they ordinarily used to enjoy. If your child has been complaining more than usual about school; or is crying more than normal, or has been displaying more fear than usual; is clinging to you more than before or if his/her eating and sleeping patterns have changed – he/she could be under some kind of stress.
Observe how your child is behaving outside home
Outside the comfort of their home, kids often behave differently. Children often show their aggression or anger outside their home. Inquire about your child and his behavior with other parents and teachers. Make casual conversations with his friends when they come over so that they feel comfortable with you and would feel free to talk to you in times of trouble. Staying connected and well-networked with the people your child associates with (teachers, friends, other parents etc) will help you stay in the loop during times of concern.
Reading in between the lines
Because children are unaware of what stress exactly is – they are not going to come up to you and say, ‘Mom I am stressed!’ They may use words such as ‘worried’ ‘confused’ ‘angry’ ‘don’t know’ ‘can’t understand why’ when expressing their concerns. Some children or teens also express feelings of stress by saying negative things about themselves, like “No one likes me”, “I am not good at anything”, “I am not having fun”. Try to understand why your child or teen is saying these things and whether it is stemming from some kind of stress.
Most parents have the skills to deal with their child’s stress. However, if you feel that your child or teen is showing significant symptoms of stress on a regular basis, seek the help of a counselor or a psychologist. Assistance from trained professionals will help you tackle your children and teen issues with greater efficacy.
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