Stressed Out

The signs were subtle. One day Jen Pilon glanced down and noticed her daughter Sara had been chewing her nails. This was new. Not wanting to draw attention to it, mom didn’t comment. Instead, she filed this development in her brain’s What’s Up? department for future reference. While family life was busy, as always, over the next three weeks Jen observed that her 10-year-old wasn’t her usual exuberant self. Sara stayed home from school one day with a tummy ache. She whined about having to help with the dishes, a chore she usually did without complaint.

When her mom went in to check on her one night before heading to bed, she knew something was up. “Sara was wide awake, “ Jen says. Although her mom comforted her until she went to sleep, all Sara was able to reveal was that she wasn’t feeling that great. A trip to the doctor was in order and Jen was surprised by the diagnosis. “Stress.” The doctor recommended relaxation techniques and more one-on-one times with her parents. “She also suggested we modify her schedule until she was feeling more secure.” Sara’s now back to being more lighthearted, but Jen believes a number of factors contributed to her stress.

“I was stressed,” this mom admits. “There was pressure at work and I guess I brought it home.” Eventually, Sara fessed up that she had been worrying when her mom and dad argued, especially since a classmate’s parents had gotten a divorce. She also told her mom she was anxious about her report card. Her teacher had gone on maternity leave and the substitute was “tough.” “I only wish I had figured this out sooner,” Jen says. Stress is usually not the first thing that comes to mind when a youngster seems out of sorts or unwell. Kids do experience their share of tension, though. At the same time, they often lack the capacity to identify it in themselves, to articulate it and to remedy it. That’s why it’s up to mom and dad to be aware kids may be struggling with it and also to help them cope with it. Ottawa Public Health has some great advice about how you can assist your kids. With permission, here are some tips:

Help your child handle stress

• Play soft music.

• Give them a bath and a gentle massage.

• Give them cuddle time.

• Talk to them in a calm, soothing voice.

• Dim the lights to lower the level of stimulation.

• Tell the child a story that is similar to what the child is experiencing and ask them to tell you how the person in the story is feeling. Often this will help children to say how they are feeling.

• Listen to their feelings first, then choose how you will respond to their behaviour.

• Role-play a stressful situation (for example, the first day of camp) and problem solve together.

• Encourage your child to draw a picture of his/her feelings.

• Spend quiet time together such as reading, making a craft, or doing a puzzle. Children will often talk about a problem when given the opportunity and your full attention.

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