Childhood stress can be present in any setting that requires the child to adapt or change. This stress may be a response to a negative change in a child’s life. In small amounts, stress can be good. But, excessive stress can affect the way a child thinks, acts, and feels. Your child may not recognise that it is the stress that’s causing behavioural changes, which might lead to confusion and even more stress.

So, how can you help your child with stress successfully?

Child, Adolescent and Young Adult Psychologist Tripti Choudhary Vaid shares advice and answers questions about dealing with stress in kids as parents.

1. What are the silent signs that your child is under too much stress? 

Stress is a normal part of life. But if a child is under too much stress then it can affect their psycho-social-emotional-physical balance. Stress in children manifests differently from that in adults. Some of the signs and symptoms of excessive stress in children are as follows: 

  • Irritability and anger: Children don’t always have the words to express what they are feeling and hence it may get channelised as increased irritability and anger. 
  • Changes in behaviour: A child who was once calm starts acting out, a young child who was toilet trained starts wetting his clothes, a teenager who liked stepping out suddenly does not want to leave the house. All these behavioural changes indicate higher stress levels. 
  • Trouble sleeping: Children under high levels of stress may have changes in their sleep pattern. They may sleep a lot or have trouble falling asleep. 
  • Changes in appetite: An increase or decrease in appetite may be indicative of high levels of stress. 
  • Physiological symptoms: Children under high levels of stress may report more headaches, stomach aches, feelings of dizziness. 
  • Academic decline: Lower than usual grades, incomplete work and procrastination about school work are also indicative of high-stress levels in children. 

2. What are the effects of parents & schools adding to stress with too many activities and heavy study?

Doing activities that the child likes may actually help a child cope with stress. What is important is to not overburden the child and to help the child take things at his/her own pace. Recognising that a child is feeling stressed is important in taking care of their mental health.  

3. Has online education affected kids adversely? What can a parent do to help with this new way of learning? 

Online education is tough. It is tough for children and it is tough for parents. What effects this modality may have in the long run is yet to be ascertained. However, one can minimise the obvious effects by giving requisite breaks, helping children manage their screen time and helping them cope with the new normal of online education. 

4. What are some of the anxiety-inducing things that parents do and how can they change such behaviour? 

Children mirror their parents’ emotions. Very often, parents transfer their anxieties onto their children. For example, a parent who has been an overachiever may put undue pressure on the child to succeed in academics or a health-conscious parent may project this onto their children. In such cases, children inadvertently go through stress and anxiety. Parents can be mindful of their own anxiety and work on it to avoid it going to their children. 

5. How to connect with your child’s educators and have an open conversation about stress in children? 

In my opinion, parents and teachers need to have frank conversations about the child.  Both the parent and teacher are important stakeholders when it comes to the development of the child. Therefore, open channels of communication between the two are very important.  

6. What are some of the ways to help your children and teenagers cope with stress and anxiety? 

The following strategies may help keep stress and anxiety in check.

  • Set a sleep schedule: Research recommends 9-12 hours of sleep for 6-12-year-olds and about 8-10 hours for teens. Make sure that they have good sleep at night. 
  • Exercise: Exercise releases hormones that help in the coping of stress. Therefore, it is a must for children and teens. 
  • Eat a balanced diet: Eating a balanced meal also helps to keep one fit and fine. Binge eating or not eating can lead to added stress.  
  • Make time for fun: Apart from just academics, children and teens need to do something fun. Fun and playfulness are important to help cope with stress. 
  • Teach mindfulness: Teaching children and teens some mindfulness activities are helpful to keep them grounded amidst the chaos.
  • Go out: Letting children go out is essential for them to be able to relieve stress. Being with nature is a great coping mechanism. In the current scenario, one knows this can be tough. But a short drive may actually help them cope better. 

7. What are some parenting changes that need to be adapted to better tackle stress among kids? 

  • Watch out for helicopter parenting: Don’t hover around your child all the time. Be around but being involved in every little thing makes children irritable. 
  • Model good coping skills: When children see their parents cope with stressors effectively they learn resilience and are more likely to model that behaviour. 
  • Keep the conversations open: Encourage your child or teen to talk about whatever is going on with them. Don’t judge it!
  • Promote media literacy: Teach and educate children about the online world as they are more exposed to it now. Talk about cyberbullying, peer pressures and ways to tackle it.  
  • Help children become problem solvers: Help children solve their problems. Don’t solve it for them. Work with them to arrive at solutions. This will help develop patience and problem-solving skills.  
  • Watch your own stress: Work through your own stress and use breathing techniques, mindfulness, art, music, spirituality or anything that helps you manage your stress and anxiety. 
  • Refer: Refer to a psychologist if you feel that the child is feeling too stressed and needs someone to talk to!