Can you tell if your child is stressed? What does stress in children look like? Does it look different from stress in adults?
You are probably familiar with common signs of stress and anxiety in yourself:
Feeling “out of control” or panicky
Raising your voice without meaning to
Gritting your teeth or clenching your jaw
Butterflies in your stomach
Making fists with your hands
As I wrote in an earlier post, your child can “pick up” on your stress, but they can also get stressed and anxious, too. While adults more easily make the connection between their stress symptoms and stress, kids may not be as aware of what is going on inside and usually find it harder to identify or articulate their feelings or emotional states.
Here are some common outward signs which tell you if your child might be stressed.
Stress In The Moment
Voice pitch goes up (They might squeak, squeal, whine or shout in a higher octave)
Speech speeds up (They might talk much faster than normal)
Wide eyes or dilated pupils (Similar to the fear-response)
Shutting down and non-responsive even though he or she is looking your way (They might find it easier to just “shut out the world”)
Decreased eye contact (For some children, squinting, closing the eyes, or looking away might be a way of dealing with stressful situations and uncomfortable feelings)
When you spot these signs in your child, they need a way to help their systems regulate. For the anxious child, stroking a fuzzy blanket, aromatherapy and cuddling up may be soothing.
But if you’re not able to spend one-on-one time with your stressed or anxious child or if they are not comfortable with touch, try Roly Poly, from my book, The Parent-Child Dance.
This activity gives your child deep pressure which helps him become more aware of his body.
1. On a very large piece of spandex, a flexible area rug, or a blanket, your child begins to roll around and around, while you help him roll up inside the material.
2. His head should stick out so he can breathe.
Special Equipment: Rug, spandex, or blanket.
Pointers: The material should be large enough that when rolled, it doubles your child’s width. The heavy, all-over cocooning or swaddling effect is very relaxing. Some kids like their arms out, some prefer them to be tucked in.
Stress Over Time
Chronic stress, that which occurs over a longer time period, may have other symptoms and signs. For example, stress that can occur because of social difficulties in school, bullying, unidentified learning disabilities, tense family situation and so on, might present with these signs:
Irritability or moodiness
Feeling sick without any physical cause (if your child feels sick, help them identify symptoms and of course, seek medical help–however, sometimes feeling vaguely sick may be a way to avoid stressful situations, such as bullying at school)
Frequent complaining about school or activities
Becoming withdrawn or shutdown
Seek additional support if your child displays signs of stress over time.
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