Photo By Alexander Dummer
Kids have stress too!? Yes! Just like us, kids do have stress.
Here are simple ways to understand and
help your kids cope with and manage stress
By Samantha Yarde
Stress in the Womb –
Even in utero, a fetus can experience the stress of its mother. Whether that be emotional, physical or physiological, the fetus can feel and be impacted by what the mother is experiencing. Especially when her stress levels are high and/or she has poor health.
The Stress Response System –
Regardless of age, the stress response system, formally known as our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) operates in the exact same way. What I mean by that is, children can experience the same physiological fight, flight or freeze reaction in a threat-like situation. Stress is caused by an adrenaline surge and elevated cortisol levels to create a quick action response. Alternatively, acetylcholine and serotonin are released to slow things down for recovery.
Feelings of Distress –
Babies cry to express when they are stressed/in distress such as when they’re tired, hungry, need to be changed or comforted. Babies are not born with coping strategies to deal with stress; therefore, they can solely rely on the love and care from the adults in their life. Matter of fact, coping strategies to deal with stress can continue to develop well into adulthood.
Types of Stressors –
Children can experience a range of stressors such as biological – feeling hungry, tired, having allergies, emotional – feeling lonely, guilty, embarrassed, cognitive – feeling confused, overstimulated, learning new things, just to list a few. You’d be surprised some of the things that can be considered stressful for a child. The stress that humans experience can also range from positive stress – a normal and healthy part development, tolerable stress – more severe stressors with a limited duration, or toxic stress – adversity with a frequent and/or prolonged duration. Supportive relationships are what help to buffer and reverse the effects of stress.
Stress Behaviours –
The manifestation of stress can be interpreted as challenging behaviours such as the following: temper tantrums, a change in eating (undereating or overeating) and/or sleep habits, physical aggression (biting, hitting, kicking), complaining of physical symptoms such as a tummy ache, headache, frequent illnesses due to a low immune system, just to list a few.
Photo By Pragyan Bezbaruah
Understanding the science behind stress can be quite complex.
In fact, not all stress is bad for us. It’s a normal key part of development and daily life. Stress is what gets us up in the morning, pushes us to do our best and helps us to Keep Going.
The most important thing to consider when understanding stress would first be to realize that you too experience stress. This will help you to think about how your child may be experiencing and displaying in an age-appropriate way that they’re stressed, and how best you can support them through all the ups and downs that life will inevitably bring their way. Such as the first day of school, trying out for a sports club or going for a job interview.
Here are a few ways you can help your child cope with and manage stress:
- Ensure they have a healthy and balanced diet and are getting enough sleep
- Develop their emotional literacy by helping them to recognize, acknowledge, identify, express and talk about their feelings
- Engage them in relaxation strategies such as deep breathing, mindfulness/meditation or yoga, as well as in physical activities. These create endorphins in the brain which help to reduce stress
- Try to create stress-free environments such as device-free dinners/family time and limiting screen time
- Read age-appropriate books with characters who overcome challenging situations
- Kids like predictability. Maintain consistency in their daily routines and explain to them in advance when changes may be happening
- Explain to them that stress is normal part of life and growing up and set positive examples of how you deal with it
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This article is solely for informational purposes only and not intended to be used to replace professional advice, treatment or professional care. Always speak to your physician, healthcare provider or pediatrician if you have concerns about your own health or the health of a child.
Samantha Yarde is a Registered Early Childhood Educator from Toronto who has been working with children and families for 7 years. She currently holds an Honours Bachelor in Child Development and is pursuing a Master of Arts in Early Childhood Studies. Samantha is a guest writer for Smoov, sharing her expertise, experience and tips, specifically pertaining to the healthy development and well-being of children.