Children feel stress due to internal causes and external causes.
Both need to be taken into account to ensure that their environment minimizes their state of mental or emotional strain or tension that results from adverse or very demanding situations and circumstances.
Some children have an anxious temperament. Thus even modest changes and transitions in activities and stages of development can cause stress. If a parent is aware of this general mental state, they can do several things to minimize stress on their child:
- Prepare your child ahead for the day’s routine so they know what to expect.
- Tell your child ahead of time when they are going to transition from one activity to the next, always preparing them with masks and social distancing.
- Discuss with them shifts from school to summer activities such as camps or family trips which may be narrowed lately considerably due to COVID.
- Help them keep organized so they know where things can be found without causing any panic about where are regular items they use every day.
- Create a stable sleep routine that continues every night and if something is going to interfere with it, let them know ahead.
- When they take on new challenges, be positive about new learning experiences that will encourage them to take some risks when their confidence is a bit shaky.
- Teach the value of learning for its own sake, so that grades and tests are not a cause of anxiety, but just a measure of how well one is performing at the time. In other words, minimize competition with others and just share the idea that the child is trying to improve themselves. Learning should be fun and full of discovery, not a pressure cooker.
- Normal developmental concerns include fears of loss of a parent, loss of love, loss of approval. Be conscious of when your child is going through these stages with plenty of reassurance that these are natural fears that they will lessen in time with your constant care.
Life brings changes into family lives such as losses, divorce, employment problems, changes of residence, or in the extreme traumatic dangerous events such as car accidents, fires, terrorist attacks, and other unfortunate unforeseen events. Parents who provide a stable, trusting, emotional environment for their child on a regular basis can minimize the traumas that could ensue.
- Each child should have at least one parent who offers unconditional love, reliability, dependability, and continuous care. The child will feel they can rely on this bond when unforeseen events occur. They feel protected.
- In the situation of divorce, discuss with your child that mothers and fathers don’t always stay married, but they always stay parents. Let your child know they are not at fault for their parents’ problems and will be taken care of regardless of any changes in their home environments.
- Losses of pets and people need careful attention for an extended period of time, so the child feels their safety and security and whoever will be taking care of them will not be jeopardized. Children worry about who will take care of them.
- Keep extracurricular activities during the school year to a reasonable amount so your child is not overscheduled and rushed from one event to another. Of course, with COVID this is even more complicated, but kids feel better if they know you have checked out if people they will be with have been tested, wear masks, and social distance. Be aware how exhausted and hungry your child may be as they go to and from after school activities.
- In the extreme cases of traumatic incidents that the child is not emotionally capable of tolerating without intense distress, stay close to them, listen to their questions and give brief concrete answers to the best of your ability. Monitor their moods and understand that excessive irritability, anger and other strong emotions are the result of the events not behavior problems. Do not be punitive; instead listen carefully to all concerns.
- In the situations of extreme stress with high levels of emotional tension, there may be puzzling, acting out behaviors that should not be punished but understood as communications that cannot be articulated in words. Help your child with kindness, understanding, and discussions of their worries.
- In high stress situations, the calmer the parent can be the calmer the child will be. Children absorb parental tensions that they perceive without verbal understanding. They monitor parents’ gestures, states of mind and actions closely getting clues on how dire the situation may be.
- If your child needs to be hospitalized for any reason, if possible, prepare them ahead for what is to be expected briefly but honestly explaining you will be there with them. If it is an unexpected hospitalization (following a car accident for example) stay with them as much as possible and again explain the facts as they appear trying to remain as calm as possible yourself or getting help from someone who can remain calm during the situation as it evolves.
In general, stress is lowered when children know they can depend on a trusted parent they have formed a close bond with. This is a parent who answers questions and listens attentively to the child’s worries, ideas, opinions, intentions, and imaginings. Listen carefully without interruption, so you get a full understanding of what your child is worried about. Ease unfounded fears promptly and explain realistic fears in a way your child can tolerate bit by bit. Stress is part of everyday life, but when children know the parent is protective and loving, stress is reduced tremendously because the child knows the parent will take on the burden of knowing what to do to handle the circumstances and then your child feels safe and loved.