Our children's lives seem so simple compared to the grown-ups, but they do experience stress. After all, stress is the body's physical, chemical, and emotional reaction to an overwhelming or confusing situation. And getting excited can be stressful, too!
When children learn how to walk, go to school for the first time, make friends, it's good stress. These opportunities are perfect for teaching preschoolers how to cope — it's an essential life skill.
But while a little bit of stress is good, too much of something is never good. How do you know if your child is under a lot of stress? The American Psychological Association (APA) outlines the basic warning signs:
For example, your child is having frequent nightmares, waking up in the middle of the night, or not being able to sleep. Is your child crying a lot, has no appetite, and being more clingy? If they suddenly don't want to go to school or other activities they used to love, something is up.
New or regressive behavior
Bedwetting, when your child had already mastered potty training for years, is a sign of distress. When you find out your child is lying, talking back disrespectfully, or bullying other kids when he usually doesn't should make you think about the possible reasons for the new behavior.
Sudden changes in behavior
These include being irritable or moody, acting out, complaining more than usual, or routinely expressing worries, or getting angry and getting physically hurtful all of a sudden. At the very least, these behaviors are cues that all is not well.
Acquiring a nervous habit
Is your child suddenly displaying fearful reactions or nervous ticks, such as nail biting or thumbsucking? Nervous habits can be a sign that something is bothering him. Does he want to always be alone, avoiding parents or long-time friends?
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Complains of physical pains
Stress in children can also appear as physical symptoms, such as stomach aches and headaches. Is your child making too many trips to the school clinic? These symptoms usually appear before a big life-changing situation.
Your child may not recognize that he under a lot of stress. Kids may not even understand the word and may express feelings of distress through other words such as "worried," "confused," "annoyed," and "angry." You have to listen for these words and statements ("Nothing is fun" or "No one likes me") and try to figure out the underlying reason.
Sometimes, the reason for young kids' stress is just a terrible movie or news report they've seen. Most of the time, they are overwhelmed by having too much on their plate, so free up their schedules a bit so they can have more play time. Other times, it's a death in the family, having a new sibling or moving to a new home, hearing their parents' fighting or separation, and even peer pressure.
If anyone knows your child better, it's you. So observe and open up a conversation. There are many things your can do to help your child. Try meditation mantras, and sports can help, too. Use these moments to show your child how to handle stress.
Remeber, too, to keep your stress levels in check. Let your child know that no matter how small or big it is, whatever is troubling him, that he or she can talk to you about it any time.