Childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a tremendous impact on lifelong health and opportunity. This is because brain development is critical and most sensitive during early life stages. Encounters with abuse, neglect and household dysfunction affect the brains of children in the parts that regulate and integrate hormonal, autonomic, and immune responses. These adverse childhood experiences result in wide-ranging consequences, specifically trauma, and stress. This stress, if left untreated, may result in depression at a later stage in life.
In order to effectively aid children dealing with stress, it is necessary to have a holistic understanding that even the youngest children feel stress and are emotionally affected by it. It is a prevalent myth that childhood is a time when children are carefree, having no worries or responsibilities. However, the lesser known fact is that many children experience extreme stress and have similar symptoms as those of adults. Often, children do not have the means or the skills to manage their stress in appropriate ways. Thus, they depend on adults to help them. As parents and caregivers, we need to recognize when children are feeling stressed, and help them feel better.
Change in behaviour is one way of stress manifestation amongst children. Common alterations can include being irritable or moody, withdrawing from activities that once gave them pleasure, routinely expressing worries, complaining more than usual, frequently breaking out by crying, displaying surprising fearful reactions, clinging to a parent or teacher, sleeping too much or too little, or eating too much or too little. Aggression and anger are some of the symptoms of stress amongst 0 to 3 years of children. Stress establishes itself into a more chronic anxiety as the child reaches elementary school.
Sesame Workshop India through its flagship program Galli Galli Sim Sim reaches out to both parents and children to help them cope with difficult situations. Here are some strategies to help your child deal with stress.
Building resilience amongst children is vital to equip them with the mental strength required to accept the negative sentiments and shape a constructive outlet through which they can express their emotions. In order to successfully develop resilience the child should be in at least one stable relationship with an adult. The personalized responsiveness, scaffolding, and protection provided by this relationship buffers the child from developmental disruption.
Often children are unable to comprehend their feelings. It makes them incapable of externally displaying or articulating these varied sentiments. Parents can take help of some educative videos and TV shows like Galli Galli Sim Sim. The ‘I Love Elmo’ segment of the show provides the strategies to help caregivers and children understand different feelings like anger, jealousy, fear, separation anxiety, etc.
A bond based on trust can be developed if a child is attended by an affectionate adult. Simple mechanisms can be used to aid trust building including a non-threatening manner of communicating and assurance that they will be cared for, no matter what. Establishing an effective communication path with your child to openly express their support is imperative.
Placing a tangible comfort item such as a blanket or stuffed toy, enables the child to feel better about the surroundings. A “Calming Bottle” or “Thinking Bottle” filled with water and glitter can also be used as a calming technique. Children shake the bottle and watch the glitter move. Similar principles are applied to safe places that comfort a child in need. A “cozy” or “calm” corner that offers privacy and comfort can help children cope.
Breathing exercises, such as taking deep breaths by slowly opening one hand finger by finger on the inhale and slowly closing it finger by finger on the exhale, can help to establish a stronger sense of presence. Yoga can also help develop self-regulation skills, deal with stress, and calm their minds and bodies.
To lead a stress-free lifestyle sleep is imperative. Fix a bedtime for your child and adhere to it even on weekends. This helps your child to transition from the activities of the day to the relaxed state necessary to fall asleep.
Just like adults, stress is a part and parcel of children’s lives. Equipping them with strategies which help them cope with stress and understand emotions can go a long way in leading a healthy and happy childhood.
The article has been written by Richa Shukla who is a content expert at Sesame Workshop India.