Being More Present in Child’s Life Will Help With Stress
By Kathleen Linder, LPC
A: Often as adults we are too caught up in what is occurring in our own worlds to recall what it was like to be a child. The reality of returning to school year structure can certainly be stress-provoking for parents, but what about your child? Think about your own childhood experience and what kinds of things weighed heavily on your mind. Guess what? Those same types of issues weigh heavily on your child’s mind as well. It’s extremely important that as parents we don’t get so caught up in our worlds that we fail to see the struggles our children are having as well.
What is Stress?
In child-friendly terms, stress is what a person feels when they are worried about something. When a person worries, it can cause the body and mind to feel bad, uncomfortable or “out of sorts.” Children are not always able to identify what the problem is and oftentimes, we only see a behavioral, physical and emotional response to stress.
When asking yourself how to tell if your child is stressed out, consider any changes in your child’s behavior and in his/her physical and emotional responses. The physical affects may cause your child to feel sick in the stomach, be unable to eat, have trouble sleeping or result in headaches. The emotional results may cause a person to feel cranky, withdrawn from family and not interested in otherwise enjoyable activities. It may affect the ability to pay attention or to remember things.
What Causes Stress?
In a child’s life there are many things that may cause stress. Let’s remember that there is good stress and bad stress. Let’s look at ourselves with an example of preparing for a wedding or the birth of a baby; that stress is ultimately positive, even though it can be quite stress provoking. The same is true with our children. Good stress for a child might be going up to bat in a baseball game or getting called upon in class. Good stress is the kind of stress that helps you to get things done.
Bad stress usually results when a situation is present over time and occurs inside or outside the family system. Let’s take a look at some potential troubling stressors your child might be experiencing:
1. A child who is watching parents argue or when the home environment is always tense
2. A child who is dealing with a situation where a family member is sick
3. Coping with academic pressures at school (needing to meet teacher expectations and parent expectations)
4. Coping with social pressures at school (needing to be the most popular, own the nicest clothes, be in the “in” crowd, being bullied, embarrassed or feeling isolated)
5. Being over-involved in extracurricular and after-school activities
How Can I Best Help My Child Deal With Stress?
1. First and foremost, be available. You are what your child wants. Your presence can never be replaced by a friend, a sibling or an after-school activity.
2. Listen to your child and don’t try to solve the problem. Too many times we want to fix things and all the person wants is to be heard.
3. Ask the child if he/she wants you to do anything to help.
4. Always be available, even if that means arranging a weekly “appointment” with your child.
5. Understand your child’s personality so you know how to react.
6. Create as much order as possible. Routines increase a child’s feeling of security.
7. Allow time for your kid “to be a kid.” In our efforts to provide a fulfilling childhood, we sometimes over-fill the schedule. Take time for your child to just be at home.
8. Provide encouragement in things your child does well.
9. Monitor and evaluate your own stress levels and how you cope with stress. You are the greatest role model that your child has and he/she will do what he/she sees you doing.
10. Look at your own behavior. Are you working at a harried pace? Do you take care of your stress needs? Do you take time to take care of yourself?
11. Counseling is always an option. If you feel at a loss of how to support your child, you may wish to engage some professional advice.
Remember that your child is a lifelong investment. You are their greatest example, and you impact the outcome of your child’s life more than anyone else. No one can replace you.
Kathleen Lindner, LPC, is an outpatient therapist at Kernersville Medical Center with Moses Cone Behavioral Health Center. Please submit your questions to “Is My Kid OK?” by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.