It’s hard to imagine a 4-year-old feeling stressed.
Why would they experience anything other than pure happiness – playing all day, snacks, nap-time!?
Sounds like a great life.
But think of all the challenges in your child’s daily routine. They are constantly learning – socially, emotionally, physically, and mentally. And with learning comes with challenges and setbacks.
Now, add in the things that go along with being in a family: job difficulties, relationship challenges, financial burdens, health concerns, communication roadblocks…
Plus, no matter how hard you try to shield your children from your own stress and anxiety, children are perceptive. They often know when things are “not right,” even if they do not understand all of the details.
Is Your Child Stressed?
Very few children have the vocabulary to say, “Mom, I’m feeling stressed.”
Instead, it comes out as tantrums, noncompliance, change in emotional response (crying more frequently), or a sudden change in behavior (a normally relaxed child lashing out in anger).
In order to help you sort out if your child is showing a stress response vs. something else, it may be helpful to ask yourself a few questions about the stress level in your home.
- Am I feeling stressed or overwhelmed?
- Is there a big change happening in our family?
- Is there a minor change happening in our family (that may seem big to a young child?)
- Has my child entered a new stage of development, that lead to increased responsibility or independence?
- Has my child mentioned anything potentially stressful (test at school, new baseball coach)?
- Is there something that we are not talking about with the kids, but they might be sensing as stressful (financial stress, separation or divorce)?
How Can You Help?
Even if you’re not 100% sure that your child is feeling “stressed” these strategies may help your child express what is going on and give them tools for dealing with big emotions.
- Focus on the Relationship: It’s tempting to keep adding consequences and punishment when our children engage in challenging behavior. Instead of going that route, find ways to connect with your child – give lots of hugs, increase snuggle time during the day, write an encouraging note, tell them “I Love You!” or go on a one-on-one date.
- Put a Name To It: Help your child express what they are feeling by giving them the words to use. Modeling the use of emotion words may help your children tell you how they feel in the future. “Waiting for the new baby to arrive is stressful! I sometimes feel all mixed up inside – sometimes I’m excited, sometimes I’m nervous, and sometimes I’m impatient!”
- Build In Some Downtime: If your family is planning a big change, or if you recently went through a big change, chances are good that your child is looking for normalcy and routine again. Find time to stop and relax throughout the day. Model deep breathing and encourage the use of other relaxation techniques. (Do it with your kids, this applies to parents too!)
- Look for Other Resources: In some situations, an outside support can ease the stressful feelings. There may be a support group for new big brothers or sisters or children with parents going through a divorce. Maybe there’s a great math tutor through your child’s school. Perhaps your child would like to join a sport or group to meet friends after a relocation.
- Seek Support: What do you need to decrease the stress in your life? Is it time to seek therapy for your anxiety? Do you need help with organization? Are you feeling isolated or overwhelmed? Would you benefit from joining a gym? Sometimes, the best way to help our children is to help ourselves. It’s not always easy to seek help, decide just to change one thing today.
Please note: if you try these techniques for a while, and still feel that your child is struggling, it may be time to seek help from a mental health professional.
It’s unfortunate that even young children have to deal with stress.
Thankfully, there’s still cartoons, snacks and nap time.
Maybe stressed-out adults could take some notes.
Could YOU use some support?
Does the thought of helping your child deal with their stress make you feel even more stressed? If so, I’d love to work together with you as your Parent Coach. We will talk about your goals as a parent and discuss strategies and techniques that are tailored to your unique family’s needs. If you want to know more about Parent Coaching, use the form below to set up a free, no-obligation phone conversation to discuss the details!