Like all emotions, stress is an unavoidable, yet manageable part of life. If you’re a caregiver to children of any age, your stress is on display. When you’re feeling stressed, how does that look and feel like to the children in your care? What does their stress look and feel like? It’s important to identify stressors in yourself and in your kids, and work through the feelings in helpful ways. Teach children to become aware of how stress feels in their bodies and minds. Building awareness can help them recognize it without being afraid of it or letting it overtake them. It also sets them up for healthy stress management later in life.
Identifying and managing stress at home
Stress is unavoidable, but if dealt with head on, in a healthy way, it becomes just another normal, manageable part of life. Your family members will grow from this approach too. Parents set the emotional tone for the home and the family. If kids can notice and pay attention to your stress, they also take note of how it’s dealt with. In the same way you help kids express their “big feelings” about certain situations and encourage them to take time to feel their way through it, caregivers must model that behavior for children. Separate them from your feelings, letting them know that your stress is not their fault or because of them. This will make it more likely that your stress won’t negatively impact your kids.
Symptoms of stress in kids
For children, stress can manifest itself as trouble concentrating, tantrums, isolation, perseveration, etc. Warning signs can include changes in mannerisms or behaviors at home, trouble sleeping, trouble at school, isolation, not being able to express themselves, or exhibiting aggressive behavior towards others. Sometimes, parents or caregivers can also misinterpret a kid's stress-related behavior as "bad behavior" (e.g.,: having trouble at school, not being able to complete a task, lack of motivation, irritability, etc.) The behavior is happening for a reason, and stress is often that reason.
Talking about stress with kids
Having age-appropriate conversations about stress, and having them often, is very important. Educate children about stress before it happens. Teach them how it can look and feel, and normalize the fact that it’s common and expected. Sharing real life examples of stress — including how it looks and feels for you — can help them better understand where stress can stem from and how it can be managed. And it helps them understand and make sense of your stress. Because stress is different for everyone, learn their specific feelings about it and experiences with it. Validate their feelings. Ask questions. Listen. Be their safe space. And most importantly, find an outlet for your own stress, too.
Counteract the negative effects of stress with healthy behaviors
Occasional stress is manageable, but too much stress can negatively impact mental and physical health. And it negatively impacts those around us too — in similar ways. Too much stress can result in crankiness, irritability, and unpleasant interactions. If your physical health declines, you guessed it, additional stressors come about. Before stress becomes overwhelming, start practicing healthy behaviors to keep it at bay and to prepare your body for the extra stressful days. Having space and setting healthy boundaries is important, and so is having your own support system to talk about your feelings. This can include a loved one, a therapist, friend, coach, significant other, etc.
It's okay to ask for help when we're feeling stressed. Also remember to be kind to yourself — at some point you might not manage your stress well and that’s ok — you are human.
For more guidance on how to deal with stress, Brightline can help. Get in touch here: https://www.hellobrightline.com