As we age, we inevitably encounter more stress in our lives.
Financial responsibilities mount, elderly relatives require more care, children need extra attention – and that’s not taking in anything out of the ordinary happening.
If you and your family experience something that shakes the foundation of your family – be it severe illness, sudden death of a loved one, redundancy, a traumatic accident or event – it can be very hard to maintain a sense of normality for everyone.
Life has changed as you know it. You don’t know how long it will be like this but you know that the change in atmosphere, routine and tension will affect your child if it continues.
When responding to stress, children can exhibit many different behaviours like:
- Trouble sleeping and/or getting back to sleep
- Nail-biting or thumb-sucking
- Lack of appetite
- Clinginess to parent or care-giver
- Feeling sick; stomach pains or headaches
- Aggressive behaviour – picking fights, talking back, testing boundaries
- Depression or sadness
Thankfully, there are things you can do to help them maintain happiness and stability during stressful times. Here are a few of them:
- Talk to them: Be honest with your children about what’s happening (in an age-appropriate manner). You don’t have to tell them everything, but they will appreciate you telling them and feel more included and likely to talk to you if they’re feeling upset about the situation.
- Stick to a routine: As much as you can, try to keep your child’s routine the same as it was. A daily schedule and nightly routine bring a sense of comfort and safety to a child’s life and they will need that during this time. If your routine has changed a lot, creating a visual routine chart or diary can help your child get used to the new change.
- Spend extra special time with them: It’s not your fault that your attention has to be elsewhere during stressful times but make up for it by making the time you do spend with your child extra special. Don’t just be in the room with them, interact, chat with them, play with them, take them somewhere new and make happy memories.
- Soothe and support: If you have a particularly anxious child, practice breathing exercises with them or do a short meditation or yoga stretches. Keep them well-nourished with good food and make sure they get plenty of rest.
- Get them to express their feelings: It’s not uncommon for some children, particularly teenagers, to shut down during stressful or sad times and not want to communicate. If they don’t want to talk, see if you can encourage them to draw, paint or channel their emotions into playing music or song-writing.
In younger children, see what comes of teddy or doll play. Watch how your child uses their toys to express their feelings in an environment they can control.