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|Helping your child manage stress|
Stress is not a uniquely adult experience – even young children can be subject to all kinds of stress, such as parental expectations to perform well in academic and non-academic activities.
There is simply no way to eliminate stress, and neither should it be viewed in a completely negative light. After all, it is only in adversity that your child will be able to grow and develop.
The key is to be on hand to support her when she needs you, and to know when to let her work things out on her own.
As your child expands her social sphere, she will come into contact with more people, and she may be exposed to more situations that she may find stressful.
Depending on how your child reacts to it, stress can be either positive or negative.
Positive stress provides your child with the energy or motivation to do better, but negative stress will have the opposite effect.
Remember, every child handles stress differently. For instance, one child may be excited by a ride on a rollercoaster while another may break down and refuse to go on the ride.
Signs of stress
Your child may not know when she is feeling stressed, and even if she does, she may not be able to adequately convey her feelings of stress or frustration to you.
As parents, you will need to be alert to changes in her behaviour that come about as a result of stress. The most common signs include:
• Irritability or moodiness.
• Withdrawal from activities that she used to enjoy.
• Fretting or worrying more than usual.
• Abrupt behavioural changes where she becomes more clingy/withdrawn, quieter/more outspoken, aggressive or any other departure from her usual behaviour.
• More physical complaints such as recurrent headaches/stomach aches, change in appetite, bedwetting.
• The presence of physical complaints in the absence of illness.
Take note that negative behaviour does not necessarily mean that she is facing excessive stress. It is however, a clear indication that there is something wrong.
Should you see any such behaviour emerging, it means you need to pay attention and come up with an appropriate response to her behaviour.
How parents can help
Regardless of the cause, stress can build up over time, leading to your child displaying inappropriate and unwanted behaviours.
This may make it difficult for them to focus on learning, or even manifest as health problems.
As a parent, you need to keep track of her behaviour to pinpoint the cause(s) of her stress.
By reviewing recent events, you can take appropriate measures to help your child. Here is what you can do to help your child to cope:
• Encourage her to use positivity – it’s easy for your child to repeat negative thoughts to herself.
Teach her to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
Children have a tendency to mimic adults, so take care not to verbalise negative self-comments in front of her such as “I’m such an idiot for misplacing my keys!”
You may be surprised by how much negative self-talk you use, so make it a point to practise positive self-talk at every opportunity.
• Teach her to take small, logical steps – chances are your child will be stressed whenever she has to perform a task.
Guide her by teaching her how to break them down into smaller and more easily-managed steps. Taking baby steps will help her overcome any fears she may have about her ability to start or complete a task.
• Focus on her efforts rather than the results – just remember that no one is perfect. Anxiety and worry are just some of the feelings that she may feel. At times like this, you should be more supportive and emphasise that everyone makes mistakes, and that it is a part of life.
This is an excellent opportunity to teach her that it is what she does next that counts, i.e. admitting a mistake and taking the appropriate corrective action.
• Let her take some time out – all work and no play makes Jill a dull girl – everyone needs a little break from the daily grind, even children. Many children are often subjected to not only academic and extracurricular activities in school, but also to supplementary classes out of school hours and during weekends.Keep an eye on her and whenever she seems stressed or flustered, it is time for a break from her routine. Find activities that you know she enjoys, or even new ones, which can be relaxing.
• Teach her how to stay calm and focused – help her find a way to centre herself and keep calm, like listening to music, taking a walk, jogging, yoga or anything positive that works. Do try to avoid depending on electronic gadgets as the disadvantages will probably outweigh the benefits.
Not all stress is bad
Despite the negative connotations of stress, moderate amounts can actually be good.
It serves as a form of motivation that will keep your child striving for excellence in whatever she embarks on.
The key to preventing stress from overwhelming her is in successfully managing her response to stress. You will find that this is a very useful skill that will serve her well into her adulthood. Lastly, if you have done every-thing you can, yet your child’s stress levels still continue to be a major concern, seek the services of a trained professional such as a paediatrician, a psychologist or a child psychiatrist, if need be.
Dr Rajini Sarvananthan is a developmental paediatrician. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. This article is also supported by an educational grant from KidZania Kuala Lumpur. For further information, visit www.mypositiveparenting.org. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.