Gone are the days when childhood was a carefree time without worries. Kids today have to deal with so many triggers to their innate stress response. It’s important to honour the experience, learn to recognize how stress manifests itself in kids and arm them with the tools to deal with these challenging feelings.
For parents and caregivers who deal with stress and anxiety themselves, this is actually a wonderful opportunity to model coping mechanisms to support your child through the tough times. It can even become a great bonding opportunity….
Responses to stress can look very different in kids. Here are some ways it could manifest in your child:
angry outbursts, mood swings + irritability
tummy aches, diarrhea
sleep issues - trouble falling asleep, oversleeping, teeth grinding
forgetfulness, inability to concentrate
lack of appetite, binging, unexplained nausea
These symptoms may well have other root causes, but stress aggravates everything. Identifying the root cause of the tension is key, and the only way to really do that effectively is to talk to your child about what is stressing them out. Sometimes it will be obvious - like living through a pandemic, sometimes it's something you may not even realize, like feeling left out by a peer group or fear about their future. The only way to find out is to keep the lines of communication open and judgement free.
So what can we do about it?
Fresh Air and Movement - key for everyone! We’ve gone on and on about it. Enough said. nt. It doesn't have to be complex, it doesn't have to be sports, you don't need special equipment. Just go outside. Play tag, climb a tree, follow the leader, ride a bike, play frisbee or catch - all great outdoor activities.
Laughter - another daily requirement - it truly is the best medicine and can have an immediate effect on mood. Play a family game of try not to laugh. Kick it up a notch by playing outside, where one person takes a big sip of water and holds it in their mouth while the other person tries to make them laugh. If they spit - they win! Or lose, depending on how you play the game
Deep Breathing - Teach your child to breathe deeply, pushing the belly out with each deep breath. Inhale for 5 counts, exhale for 10 to really blow all the stress away. For little ones have them practise blowing out imaginary birthday candles.
Grounding - when things seem out of control try a 3-3-3 exercise - Stop, look around. Now Find and name 3 things you can see, hear & feel. This can bring someone in the throws of a panic attack back down to reality. Works well in a crisis.
Sleep - Lack of sleep directly relates to lack of resiliency. If your child is having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, please reach out and get some support. School aged kids, including teenagers, require anywhere from 9-12 hours nightly.
Herbal Medicine: Teas and tinctures with calming properties can be a great tool when used appropriately. Chamomile, Catnip, Hops, Skullcap, Lemon balm., Linden, Oats - all super nutritive for the nervous system, soothing, and wonderful as a nighttime stress relieving ritual. Not too close to bedtime and not too big a cup - be mindful of the effects on the bladder. We have a new tincture in clinic specially formulated for helping anxious kids fall asleep. It’s called Lullaby and it can be a lifesaver.
Essential oil: Lavender is an incredibly powerful herb for promoting calm. Add a few drops of essential oil to a spray bottle with water and call it chill out spray or monster begone for kids who fear the monster in the closet.
Food: dips in blood sugar make the body believe it’s in danger of starvation. This happens when we go too long without eating or when overeating simple carbs - bread, pasta, sweets & cereal without a balance of protein and healthy fats. All my patients know my mantra: protein and fat every time you eat to banish the hangries and balance the blood sugar. Some kids need a protein rich bedtime snack - a handful of pumpkin seeds or nuts if your child can tolerate them - small, easy to digest and rich in protein and fat.
Baths: warm water makes everything better. Add a drop of lavender and some soothing epsom salts to elevate your relaxation game.
Supplements: Chronically stressed kids may need deeper interventions under the guidance of their health care practitioner. Rhodiola, L-Theanine. GABA and Magnesium are all potential choices that can promote restful relaxation and calming without sedation.
Mindfulness: Research shows that mindfulness has an incredibly positive effect on improving emotional resilience and self regulation in everyone. Try this fun visual: Mind-In-A-Jar: Get a jar with a lid and fill it with water. Add a couple of drops of food colouring for fun. Explain that this is your mind during a quiet moment - clean and clear like the sky. Now take some sparkles or if you don’t have any - sand or soil will work too. Add it to the jar. Each tiny grain is a thought. Some are happy thoughts, some are sad, some are exciting wishes, some are dark and angry feelings. Put the lid on the jar and shake it up, so that everything swirls around, faster and faster. This is your mind in a jumble. Now let everything calm down by letting the jar sit still. This is your mind in meditation. Watch the thoughts settle down to the bottom, leaving the water – your mind — light and clear, instead of full and cloudy. Now you can act peacefully, because you can think clearly! Any time your child needs to settle their thoughts - they can get the jar and watch the sparkles settle while their mind settles at the same time.
As always, please reach out if you need support, we’re here for you….
Dr. Dori Skye Engel ND, Birth Doula has a special interest in the Perinatal period of a family’s life; Fertility support, Preconception Care, Pregnancy, Labour & Birth, Postpartum support as well as Babies & Children. Treating the whole person, as well as the whole family, she is honoured to support men & women through further life changes such as menopause, thyroid dysfunction, diabetes, heart disease, skin conditions & all the curveballs life throws.