Helping children cope with stress.
Any major change in a child’s life can lead to stress. Children have not yet learned to regulate their behaviors, and changes to the world as they know it can really change their perceptions of their world and what they know of their life. Common sources of stress involve divorce of parents, adding a sibling to the family, losing a pet or a family member, moving, there are so many. One of the major stresses in a child’s life now is COVID 19 – that has truly been the catalyst for all kinds of change in the lives of the children and everyone else in all our lives.
Not all stress can, or should, be avoided. Young children do not view the world as adults do. Misunderstandings or hurt feelings can build up and leave children stressed beyond their capacity to handle. Since young children cannot verbalize their feelings we need to be on the lookout for signs of stress. These signs include, loss of appetite, sleep issues, nightmares, headaches, stomachaches, or regressive behaviors like thumb sucking or bed wetting.
Children also deal with stress through play. You may see play that is disturbing, for example, a child whose parents are divorcing may use dolls to have a conversation about divorce. This is a coping strategy for children, they use play to sort out what they do not understand in their daily lives.
Adults can help children deal with stress by being supportive, ensuring that children can talk about their feelings, making the environment open and easy to talk. We need to accept the feelings of children, when adults say, “It is alright,” it may not be for the child. We might be trying to help the child, but the message we are sending is that it should not be a problem, yet the child feels that it is. We need to acknowledge, accept and support the feelings of young children. Instead, we could say, “I can see you are upset, and I want to help you deal with your feelings.” That sends the message that you are there to support the child but does not evaluate their feelings, rather just accepts those feelings.
An attitude of safety and acceptance can help children deal with stressful situations.