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Spotting and dealing with stress in children

Blog

21 April 2022

This Stress Awareness Month, we take a closer look at some of the tell-tale signs seen when children are suffering from stress, as well as ways to help them (and you as parents) cope. You can find extra tips in our latest podcast about managing stress.

Although some children are more likely to have worries and anxiety than others, it’s common for all children to display a certain level of negative emotions in response to new experiences and certain stressors such as the ones outlined below.

Stressors

According the NHS, children often find change difficult and may become anxious following a house move or when starting at nursery or school.

Family arguments and conflict can also make children feel insecure and anxious, and children who have had a distressing or traumatic experience may suffer from anxiety afterwards.

From animals, and sights, to sounds, and people, children’s stressful feelings have to be felt and processed for them to move on, and develop the skill of dealing with different situations.

Signs of stress in children

You may spot a number of these key signs that your child is suffering with stress and anxiety:

  • Increased aggression
  • Bed wetting
  • Nightmares or sleeping problems
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Crying spells or whining
  • Eating problems such as reduced appetite
  • Having a lack of interest in socialising
  • Being more clingy than usual

How to help…

For certain problems, it can be useful to get a second opinion from a medical expert, or to consult with a child psychologist or counsellor. However, there are ways to try and combat some elements of stress and anxiety as a family, such as:

Validate without worsening

When your child is having strong emotions, it is important to listen to them and validate, yet avoid offering too much attention and creating a deeper fear. Learn to listen to your child without being critical or trying to solve the problem right away.

Mindfulness

It’s important to spend calm, relaxed time with your children. Help your child burn off energy in a positive, calming way: deep breathing exercises, listening to soothing music, stretching, or yoga.

Routines

Security can be found in a predictable chain of events, so keeping a set routine Monday to Friday is helpful to avoid stress from uncertainty in your little ones. A good sleep pattern also is essential to mood, irritability levels and outlook, so ensuring a consistent and peaceful bedtime routine is in place is vital.

Distraction

Distraction can be helpful for young children. For example, if they are anxious about going to nursery, you might like to play games on the way there, such as seeing who can spot the most yellow cars on the road.

Worry Doll/Box

A ‘worry doll’ can help you encourage your child to tell the doll their fears or concerns, and pop it under their pillow or in a cosy place, so that the doll will hold onto the worry for your child.

For older children, you can turn an empty tissue box into a ‘worry box’ and help your child to write about or draw their worries and “post” them into the box for sorting out together at the end of the week.

Getting help

You can find more guidance for helping children with anxiety on the Young Minds website, and be sure to seek help or advice from a health care provider, counsellor, or therapist when signs of stress do not decrease or disappear.

Find a Nursery near you to book your child’s space with one of our settings.

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