😞Does your child complain about stomach ache or body ache just before certain event / situation?
💤Does your child having trouble sleeping when he did not have issue with sleeping previously?
🍲Does your child have a drastic change in his diet habits?
These are some symptoms of your child who may be suffering from stress or anxiety. Your child may not be able to express his anxiety or not knowing that he (or she) is undergoing stress.
Rather than dismissing their discomfort, observe and explore how can we support our children in managing their stress.
Observe and Identify
You may have noticed some “off” time for your child. Not sleeping in, tummy ache before certain classes (or going to certain places) or eating extra or too little for the last couple of weeks. Point out your observation out loud – “I noticed that … Is there something that is bothering you?”
It does depends on the age of your child if you get a useful reply. He / She may not be able to identify the exact “problem” that was bothering them.
If he / she cannot identify, then, suggest what you think your child is experiencing.
When my daughter started her primary school, she would often complain just before her stepping into the school compound that she has tummy ache. She was not aware that being in a new environment is causing her anxiousness.
Offer your observation, not conclusion. Give a few examples, if they are not sure what was the cause of stress. Let them consider and go through their days while weighing the options. You can always revisit the topic again if situation does not improve.
Ask for Suggestions
Once identified, ask how they would want to do to resolve the “problem”.
For my daughter, we had this “magic potion” that ease away all pain – from tummy ache, mosquito bites, muscle ache. It eases her to just rub the potion on before stepping into school.
For your child, it could be a smell, taste, touch, sound or image that could help ease the anxiety or stress, whatever that helps.
Giving them the opportunity to think how they want to resolve the problem is also a great opportunity to develop their problem solving skills. Instead of running away from the problem, coming out with suggestions to resolve the “problem” will allow them to see the “problem” from different perspectives.
After identifying the stress trigger and suggestion on how to resolve the stress, observe if there is any improvement (from previous observation).
If the signs have disappeared, do check in with your child again and see if the signs have disappeared and get your child’s feedback on their feelings or thoughts about the matter (or how they actually resolve the matter). They may not have used the earlier suggestions. They may have come up with a totally different approach to resolve their stress.
Encourage and cheer them on for successfully dealing with their stress or resolving their stress in their own way.
If stress level is still on, check in with them again to see if that the original stress trigger is correctly identified (or it could have been something else altogether). Then, rework on the Observe, Identify and Ask for Suggestions.
If your child has moved on, you need to move on, too. Often time, we may linger around a problem too much (or overthink) and created another round of stress on our child.
Learn to accept what your child is experiencing and to listen to them. If they say they are fine, then, they are.
Notice situations that might create stress and prep your child for it. For example, my daughter need a longer time to adjust to new environment. I would spend extra time explaining and brief her on what to expect when she gets to the new environment (or do a place orientation, if I can). It also goes to the extent of introducing the “adults” she can go to when she needed help.
Helping Your Child to Cope with Stress
It is a useful skill for your child to develop from young. As they grow up, the situations and emotions will get more challenging. As we build their skill from young, they will be more resilient and be able to find ways to resolve their stress.
For children with additional needs – they would need more support in expressing their thoughts and feelings or their coping mechanism. Offer more choices and suggestions – communicate in pictures, short phrases and verbalize your thought process to support them in their thinking process.
As parents, we want to be there for our child but we need to know that we cannot be there to solve all their problems. Our children need to learn how to live their life. Be there to give them the support when they need or for our child to know that they have a haven to return to when life gets tough.