Stress and anxiety affect even the youngest of students nowadays. The world we are raising our kids in is quite different than the one in which we grew up.
How can I tell if my child is stressed?
A child’s temperament plays a critical role in how they respond to and deal with stressors. Some children seem to take everything in stride and are relatively unbothered, while others can be very sensitive to what is going on around them and how it affects them internally.
The effects of stress and anxiety on a child widely vary. It is so important to really know your child and pay attention to them in order to sense when they may be feeling overwhelmed. Children at this age will most likely not come out and say "I am feeling overwhelmed" or "I feel stressed." It’s far more common for anxiety to manifest itself in tummy aches, crying, not eating, or becoming withdrawn, increasingly argumentative, or non-cooperative.
What can I do if my child is stressed?
There will likely come a time when you realize that your child is in a season of anxiety/stress. There are a few practical ways that you can address your child’s stress and help them navigate it:
- Ask specific, open-ended questions and listen to their words. It is so easy to think you are opening lines of communication for children to talk. We tend to parent according to the way we respond to things, which is natural and normal. Yet there are a couple of things to consider based on the temperament and personality of your child. You may have a child that will tell you every detail of their day and you know exactly what is going on. Others, though, need a little time before they are ready to share – maybe a snack and short tv show or some time outside and then they are ready to talk. Some need creative, fun questions to get them to open up, for example: instead of asking “how was your day” you may ask “which friend have you been most excited to see again this year?” or instead of saying “did you have a good day” say, "describe a great day, what are you doing that makes you feel special” maybe you ask, "how is this year different than last year?" These types of questions may take a while to adjust to and maybe you start with one a day, but it will change the way the conversations go.
- Reassure your child that you are there to love and support them when something is difficult. If there is a difficult situation, make sure you as the parent have taken time to process it yourself before you respond. Talk it out with your spouse, friend, or someone at school and always let your child know that you are there to help them figure out how to solve the problems and offer support. IF it is appropriate, tell stories about your own experience.
- Spend time together. Our culture seems to perpetuate the idea of being busy and plugged in to technology, so it takes serious effort and intentionality for families to truly spend time together. Simple measures like reducing screen time at home, playing board games together, and eating dinner together at home as often as possible can have a profound impact on a child’s stress level. One idea I love is to put all technology in a basket (parents included) so there are no distractions!
- Begin to give responsibilities at home. This actually helps a child deal with stress because it takes some of the work off the parents. Choose things they can do that will not stress you out more. They will not do it “perfectly” but when they help, there is a sense of accomplishment and “team work” in the home and some joy!
- Routine, routine, routine. Especially for younger children, routine is crucial to their health and well-being, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Establishing and maintaining consistency and stability at home provides children with space where they know what to expect and can find comfort.
- Share your concerns with someone you trust.
- Pray. As you learn what is causing your child stress and how it is manifesting in your child’s life, pray very specifically for God to move in those areas.
One last thing to keep in mind is that some amounts of stress are healthy for students and causes them to work harder or push themselves in a healthy manner. If it seems like your child is consistently feeling anxious to the point of it affecting how they function on a day-to-day basis, you may want to consider seeking professional help. Your child’s school counselor should be a great place to start in seeking that out.