Advice about stress and coping has been particularity popular in these days of quarantine, social distancing, and job insecurities. Minimizing stress levels is essential for our mental and physical health as we attempt to manage the significant life changes we are facing. This is not only true for us but for our children as well.
As a parent myself, I have seen a wide array of behavioral changes in my children since the initiation of distanced learning. I know many of my parenting friends have seen these changes in their children as well. The good news is, once we can recognize signs of stress, we can work with our children to alleviate their struggles.
As adults, we can often identify our feelings and signs of stress. We can recognize and verbalize our emotions. However, children are less likely to understand what they are feeling, let alone how to tell us what is bothering them. This can lead to behavioral changes, including:
- Difficulty focusing.
- Struggling to relax.
- Extreme emotional reactions such as anger or crying.
- Changes in eating habits.
- Increased refusal to do chores, cooperate with schoolwork at home, or other forms of stubbornness.
- Increased aggression towards caregivers or siblings.
- The emergence of new or re-emergence of old fears.
- Increased need to be physically near a parent/caregiver.
The behaviors listed above are just a few examples of physical and behavioral signs a child with increased stress may exhibit. It is crucial during these times that we, as adults, set a safe and calming environment for our children to cope with the changes they are facing.
Allow your child to participate in decision making and scheduling. In a time where it may feel like nothing is in their control, something as simple as letting them choose what order they will tackle their school work or what “fun” activities they will do can make all the difference.
Talk to your child. Your child may have insecurities and questions about what is happening, but they may not know how to ask. Find a quiet place, ask them how they are doing, and, most of all, encourage them to come to you anytime they need to talk. Let them know that you are always there when they need you. When they decide to open up to you, listen without judgment. When they have finished sharing their thoughts, let them know you love them and, if needed, help them develop a plan to manage their struggles.
Be their role model. I know this can be difficult while we are dealing with our stresses, but our children see our reactions and feed off our energy. We can help them control their stress by showing them our attempts to control our own.
Create daily routines. Routines can provide children a sense of predictability during these otherwise unpredictable times.
Read with your children! Reading is not only a way to spend quality time with your child, but it can also help reduce stress by lowering heart rate and blood pressure. Many authors are also offering online story times and activities that you and your child can watch and do together at home.
Get up and move. Physical activity can also help reduce the physical effects of stress. Go outside and get some fresh air when the weather allows. Run, play, laugh, and have fun.
When you are in a home with the same people all day, every day, sometimes you need a break to be alone — I know I do. Our kids are no different. Give your child a special “safe place” in the house. Somewhere they can go when they need to take a few minutes to escape.
To all the parents and caregivers out there, we are in this together, you are not alone, and you are doing great!
WRITTEN BY Erica Graham