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Helping Stressed Children

Stress can be debilitating so it is vital to be able to spot the early signs in our children, and then help them work through it with strategies which work specifically for them.  Remember that stress can show itself in many ways, so look out for even subtle changes in your child’s mood and behaviour.  I find these strategies are highly effective and provide children with life-long skills for dealing with life’s inevitable ups and downs:

1. Explain what’s going on in their bodies
The physical sensations of stress can be quite overwhelming for a child.  A simple explanation of their body’s physiological response gives them a better understanding of what is happening, which in turn allows them to find strategies which work best for them.  When children are faced with a situation or task which they feel is more than we are capable of, their body switches into ‘fight or flight’ mode, which in essence is stress.  This stress can make children feel sick, angry, tearful, give them butterflies in their stomaches, sleep poorly, create tension in their muscles, give them sweaty palms, increased heart rate, shortness of breath and more.

2. Teach them to recognise their bodies response
Once your child knows what stress is and how bodies respond to it, help them learn to identify their own unique physiological responses to stress.  Do this by asking them to ‘check-in’ with themselves regularly.  I do not suggest you try this when during an emotional out-burst, but instead get them to stop a couple of times during the day to sit quietly and simply observe what is happening in their bodies.  This in essence is a simple mindfulness practice which, if implemented often, will prove invaluable at times of future stress.

3. Promote problem solving behaviour
Rather than wading in quickly with solutions to our children’s stresses, encourage your child to come up with their own solutions.  This way you are equipping them with the skills to cope better next time.  So when your child gets angry and frustrated because of an upcoming examination, acknowledge their emotions, but then ask them how they might be able to outlet these negative emotions more constructively next time.  It’s really important you allow your child to think through their own solutions, you will be amazed with their own problem solving skills.  They will also be more likely to use these strategies as they have identified them themselves.

4. Create a Stress Toolbox    
Once your child knows how their body responds to stress, and you have discussed their own unique solutions, it’s good to make up a toolkit filled with ready to use resources.  For example, if your child gets tearful, they might want to create some tools which lift their mood and if they feel angry you might want to create tools which allow your child to express their anger in a more appropriate way.  Make the toolkit together and ensure it is easy to hand, so your child can go to it independently when they feel the need.  Keep adding to it as and when you find new techniques which work.  The image with this blog includes some of the typical ‘tools’ I would include in every child’s toolkit.

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