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Helping Children to Cope with Stress

By Sinead Hamill

People say childhood years are the best in your life.  Personally, I don’t think so.  Myself, I was a real worrier of a child.  Why were my parents late coming home? What if someone I loved died?  I worried about tests in school, pressures from friends and family, the list goes on!   Of course as an adult I still have worries, but the difference between then and now is that I have gained life 

experience and developed coping mechanisms, which help me to understand and deal with my stresses effectively.

Children, without much life experience, when worried, are literally at the mercy of others to comfort and explain to them the workings of the world.  As adults we may see their worries as trivial and unimportant and quite often disregard children’s concerns with little thought.   It’s important however to remember that their stresses are as real to them and influential on their lives as our problems are to us.  Stress can affect you at any age but receiving the right love and support during childhood dilemmas, equips you with better coping mechanisms for the journey to and throughout adulthood.    



 So first things first, how would you know if your child is stressed?  The following are just some of the key signs to look out for:


  • Physical Ailments: such as frequent stomach or headaches.  Take note of the times they occur and establish if there is a trigger.


  • Highly Sensitive:  Anxious children may become very tetchy, moody and defensive.  You may find they are over reacting to the smallest of stimuli, getting angry or crying over little things.  Some children withdraw from people and events while others become more needy and clingy.


  • Developing New Habits: Such as thumb sucking, twitching, coughing and more.


  • Changes in Sleep:Children may have sleepless nights due to worries resulting in lethargy during the day.  Some children may even start bedwetting.


  • Eating Patterns: Eating patterns might also be affected with children either over-eating or becoming picky eaters.



If you suspect your child is suffering from stress or anxiety, don’t panic!  There are things you can do to help:


  • Listen:Listen openly to your child’s concerns.  See if you can identify the problem.  Show some understanding and empathy.   However, rather than over indulging their worries, try encouraging them to come up with other, more positive ways to view the situation.


  • Develop Routines:  If you don’t already have routines in place, now would be a good time to start.  Children need predictability in order to make sense of the world around them. With predictability comes a sense of direction, purpose and control.


  • Preparation:If you know there is an event or change coming up that is likely to put stress on your child, prepare them for it by discussing in advance what they can expect and review possible coping mechanisms.


  • Review demands placed on your child: Everybody needs some down-time to rest and recuperate.  Make sure your child’s schedule is not so busy that it’s overwhelming him/her.  With regards to your child’s activities and challenges, try putting more emphasis on the journey rather than the end result.   


  • Healthy Habits:  As the adults in their lives, we need to ensure children get enough sleep and are eating a healthy, balanced diet.   Lack of sleep and poor diet can result in children feeling and behaving out of sorts.  Exercise is an important component for dealing with stress relief so ensure your child is engaging in enough physical activity.


  • Seek Help:  If issues persist and you are unable to find a working solution, visit your GP to find out what services and help are available to you and your child.


Remember, stress is a part of everyday life and nothing to be ashamed of.  The important thing is to keep the lines of communication open.   Try to stay alert to the subtle and not so subtle clues your child may express during times of stress.  Talk to your children and make sure they know you are there to support them.  As the saying goes: A problem shared is a problem halved!

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