Once you have identified that your child appears to be stressed, it is important to know what is bothering them.
One technique from the Psychology Foundation of Canada is to “Stop, Look and Listen!”
– Stop to listen to what your child is saying when you ask him or her “what is upsetting you?”
– You can make this a routine, maybe something you do together when you have some quiet time or when you’re doing an activity where you can connect (such as riding the bus, or folding the laundry)
– Body language can tell us a lot! Look at your child’s face and body, do they appear relaxed or tense?
– By listening and giving your child your full attention you support them in being able to express their feelings.
– Sometimes, they won’t want to talk about what is upsetting them, and you may need to to “Just Be There.” Children sometimes need space and time – do something fun together instead.
– We also need to respect our children’s ideas and feelings by validating what they are saying
“I want waffles for dinner,” says 8 year old Anna
“Don’t be silly. You can’t have waffles for dinner, that’s for breakfast only,” says mom, dismissing Anna’s request.
An alternative response might be
“I can see that you really like waffles. I think we should have something more nutritious for dinner but maybe you can have waffles for dessert or breakfast tomorrow?”
Learning the Language
If children do not have the words to describe what they are feeling, they will never be able to process their emotions in a healthy way. Often these kids will manifest their stress via aggression or explosive behaviour instead. Children can learn to label their emotions by hearing you talk about your own feelings – “It’s really frustrating when I can’t find my glasses.” This will teach them that it is okay to talk about our feelings and help them learn to recognize and name their own emotional state.
For more information and tools the Psychology Foundation of Canada in collaboration with Pfizer has put together a Stress Lessons Toolkits for parents and educators.
The Center for Studies on Human Stress publishes the Mammoth Magazine focused on scientifically grounded information about stress and its effect on human health.