In today’s world stress is part of life and can be good for us. However we need to recognise the warning signs when stress is getting too much for us. Children are no different; life can be stressful in many ways for children. From learning to potty train, understanding the rules of play to starting school. Every developmental stage a child goes through can bring with it a certain level of stress.
For parents, the key role we play is awareness that all these events in a child’s life can be stressful, even though at times we expect children to thrive and move forward. Once we are aware of these times of change we can be more aware of watching out for the signs for stress.
Stress can present in so many ways. You know as an adult that how we behave when we are stressed varies from person to person. Some adults feel ill, tired or become agitated. Behaviours change. Maybe you are less patient, distant or louder. The list can be endless. For children how they respond to stress is similar and parents are best placed to recognise when behaviours change as they know their children well.
There can of course be many reasons why a child may start behaving differently but as a parent they key is to notice. Think about what is happening for your child right now and try to make sense of what is changing for your child and causing this new reaction or behaviour in them. Remember all behaviour makes sense; it is making the sense of it that takes time.
How parents cope with their own stress levels is key to a child’s success in how they combat stress. We are the role models for our children. As children engage with parents and positive relationships in their lives, they watch and learn how to cope with the pressures that life places on us. Children are learning that although life can be full of pressure and challenges, we have the resources to manage them.
Stress has been described as having little or no control over what is being asked of us. When you think of children and how much control adults and society hold over them it would make sense that children can feel so much stress as they feel they have no control so much of the time about how things are for them.
There are many steps a parent can take to support their child to have less stress in their life.
Reflect on your style of parenting. Authoritative or more commonly known as assertive parenting really supports children. It focuses on the concept of the ‘firm but fair parent.’ The parent, who listens, respects, can be patient and be open with feelings. The parent who allows a child to have choices and hears the child voice.
Introduce quiet time to your home. Meditation is something that many of us are starting to hear a lot more about. This can come in many forms. We often talk with parents about introducing quiet time. A time you set aside everyday when you just sit quietly with your child, breathing and relaxing. It need only last for about 5-10 minutes. No talking, just sitting. You can also find meditations for children online and introduce them to visualisations that many children enjoy. Meditation very much relaxes children and supports them to talk more openly.
Help children develop an emotional vocabulary. Children need to be able to express to you how they are feeling. Children need to have the safety to say when they are not happy, not comfortable with a plan, with a person minding them, an activity, a friend or a situation in school.
Create time in your home to talk and listen. Listen without fixing. Help children to talk about how they are. What is happening for them? Role model this type of conversation. Tell them a little about how you are, age appropriate of course. Help them see that talking and sharing problems can help them find solutions. Help them however to find their own solutions. Jumping in and fixing or justifying or making little of the issue will not support their stress levels. Put yourself in their shoes and try to feel what they feel.
Explore needs - your needs and your child’s needs. One of the core reasons for stress these days is that we are constantly busy. I know many factors in life cause us stress such as finances, housing, work etc, but we are often so busy there is little time to think. Maybe at times we need to be busy so we don’t have time to sit and think about what we need. Exploring needs and your child’s needs will help you understand more clearly what is going on. Often we need our child to cooperate with us and do something but it may not be what our child needs. We can’t hear this as it will just create another issue that we don’t have time to deal with. In the long run, however not dealing with it will create bigger problems along the way.
Finally develop a support network. None of us can do this alone. Reflective journals and online meditations are very useful but we all need someone to talk to. Parents and children need to be supported to have networks, places and people they can go to, to talk things through and figure things out. Places that we feel we belong and share problems with others. That we are not alone and that others care about us. Parenting is the most challenging role in life, in my opinion. We need support to do it and do it well. Look around your community and see how you can create a network. You may need to be very creative but it is possible. You may need to engage in professionally led activities at first but informal networks will follow.
Sharing parenting, Christmas, friendships in school all can create an extra layer of stress for families. By taking some of the steps we have explored in this article you can start the journey to supporting your child to recognise and manage their stress.
One Family offer a Parenting through Stressful Times 8 week course for parents and professional workshops for those working with parents. Visit www.onefamily.ie
for further details.