Ask an adult about what childhood should be and a majority of responses are probably "times for kids to be kids, with no responsibilities or major worries." However, we know that isn't always the case for children.
Like adults, children often have bad feelings and have difficulty handling their stress. Unlike adults, though, children do not have the means or the skills to understand or manage their stress in appropriate ways. Children must depend upon us to help them. As parents and caregivers we need to recognize when children are feeling stressed and help them feel better.
What stresses kids out?
Family life causes a majority of stress on children. Divorce, an illness, moving to another town, neglect or parents fighting all cause stress on kids. School is another major cause of stress for kids -- not understanding the school work, being bullied, having a friend move away or the busy schedules kids have with school and at-home life can all bring feelings of stress and anxiety.
How can you help your child understand and communicate stress?
Parents and caregivers need to be aware of their child's normal behavior and emotions and recognize when it changes from a typically laid back quiet child to an angry arguing child. You might see eating and sleep habits change along with his or her verbal communication. Some other signs to look for are hitting, crying spells, grinding teeth, having accidents, laziness or tattling. Of course everyone has days when these signs are visible, but when they are consistent and simultaneous stress might be the cause.
Helping children understand the word stress and how it makes them feel emotionally and physically is important; this way children do not think something is seriously wrong with them or that they are not "allowed" to feel that way. Reassure them on their feelings and help them to have good communication skills with you, a teacher or a friend. Create a positive and safe environment at home with family meals, open communication and game or movie night. Try using "story time" to communicate with your child about handling stress. Make a scenario with a very similar character going through something the child can relate to. In the end of the story, have the character find out what it is that made him feel upset and ways to resolve the issue.
When you see your child stressed out, limit other activities and stimulants at home, keep things quiet and relaxing until you both can overcome the issue and feel better.
Reassurance of the child's feelings and a safe environment to talk at home is key to helping him or her deal with stress. Helping children to deal positively with stress and tension-causing events prepares them for healthy emotional and social development.