Hi Dr. Ann,
Is there such a thing as “childhood” stress? My 3-year-old daughter seems to be very moody and stressed out lately. She can’t articulate what is really bothering her. How can I help her if I don’t know what’s wrong?
Dr. Ann Corwin, The Parenting Doctor Advice
What we know about stress is that when you feel either psychological or physical pain, your body automatically releases stress hormones to try and relieve you of your pain.
Stress is a means for the body to tell itself to smooth itself out.
Adrenaline and cortisone are the two hormones released when you go through pain. They soothe your brain and make it feel almost like it’s underwater. When kids are stressed out, it’s very hard for them to learn anything because they’re in a fog.
A child’s emotional brain literally takes over their whole body.
At young ages, children can’t talk about what they’re feeling very well, so they use their bodies and act out. It’s not a child choosing to be stressed out. It’s that their bodies are dictating how they should behave. We’re born with stress hormones that are designed to put your body into a state of alertness.
First and foremost, kids do feel stress at a very young age.
Christopher is right. It’s very hard to understand how kids are feeling because often kids don’t even understand what they’re feeling. It’s hard for kids to articulate what’s causing them stress because they may not understand it and they don’t have the language to be able to describe what they’re feeling.
Pay attention to when stress happens.
I would suggest that Christopher pays attention to when the stress happens and when it doesn’t happen. Observing your child will give you cues about how to help your child. Once you know what environments cause your child to stress out, you’ll be able to eliminate the stressors and duplicate the environments that don’t stress them out.
Warning signs of stress can include a change in the child’s routine behavior.
Watch out for a loss of impulse control, such as throwing tantrums. Also, look for a change in affect – is the child talking less or talking more, or is the child withdrawn. Finally, if your child has had any signs of physical illness, observe them to see if their condition has developed into something more serious.
Get children to open up to you.
To get children to open up to you, you shouldn’t ask a three-year-old why they did something because they don’t know why. As adults we’re usually stressed out because we’re confused, which raises your anxiety levels, which puts your body into stress mode. Asking children why they’re acting the way they are only confuses them more, which then leads to more anxiety.
Through emotional education – no human being is born with impulse control – you learn it.
You’re also not born with all your emotions; you accumulate them at different developmental stages. There are many books out there to help children learn to talk about their emotions.
One in particular that I like is called, “The Way I Feel.” You have to teach your child how to label their emotions first and foremost. This can be done through modeling the behavior. You need to start identifying the feeling by name and then teach them how to deal with the emotion. We have a tendency to ask kids why they feel a certain way and they don’t know. Books are important to help them understand. Take care…Dr. Ann
Reprinted from A Place of Our Own
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