We see kids running around the house, knocking over glasses, creating a wake of chaos wherever they go. Sometimes we just wish school hours would be longer so that we didn’t have to deal with all the ‘stuff’ that comes with having a child in the vicinity. They look so happy all the time, only just breaking up in tears if the elder sibling has pulled the younger one’s pony tail. Be that as it may be, children are no different than us adults and are prone to being deeply affected by stress.
Consider a little baby, it will cry when hungry or if it has a soiled nappy or if it is having pain or is uncomfortable. These are the basic stress triggers that are external in nature, and easily identifiable.
As a child gets older, the stress factors become more complex, often very difficult to identify. Children may not be very forth coming due to the fact they have not yet mastered the art of effective communication (but then not many adults have either). So the first thing to do is identify that your child is stressed. Here’s how:
- Is it of a physical nature? Simply put, is your child sick? This one is pretty much a slam dunk. Ill kid= frustrated kid= frustrated parents but on the plus side, it’s over soon and the child is back to normal (as are parents) when the illness has run its course. Plenty of rest, proper medication, a nutritious diet and plenty of hugs should be enough.
- lack of energy (doesn’t want to play or participate)
- lack of appetite (won’t eat his favourite food)
- fitful sleeping (not sleeping on time, or waking up again and again)
- more sensitive/aggressive (over-reacting, picking fights)
- withdrawn demeanor (not talking to anyone)
- overall sad and despondent
- reduced performance at school
- increased complaints from teachers, neighbours, siblings, relatives
- disruptive behaviour (damaging other people’s belongings)
- lying/ distorting facts (laying blame on others)
- dummy pains (has aches and pains that have no apparent reason to be there)
Now remember, we are not talking about a child simply having an ‘off day’. Some or most of the above should be obvious for inexplicable reasons more or less consistently.
3. Now try to pinpoint the cause:
- First, you need to build a timeline; when did the problem start. What happened differently around that time? It could have been moving house, a new baby, death of a relative, change of school or even bruising on the body may point to physical abuse from somewhere.
- Get feedback from other sources. Your best bet is to talk to the teacher. That is the place where your child spends the better part of his active day. A few days back this one girl in my class was really off her game. Missing stationery, skipped homework, and being more aggressive. As she sat there one morning with no pencil, I asked her very quietly if she was okay. Her eyes lingered on me for a moment and she then said her mom was in the hospital. In that moment, I could tell that she felt relieved. I told her it would be okay. I asked all the children to take a moment and pray for the quick recovery of her mother. Her behaviour improved drastically after that and I always kept a pencil especially for her in my pouch. Talk to the child’s friends, maybe there is an issue with peer pressure or bullying. As I said, DETECT. Do it subtly, and tactfully.
- Sit your child down and just listen; always create a safe environment free of criticism, if you’re lucky enough that your child is willing to open his mouth, then don’t let it get clamped up again by being dismissive or judgmental, it may not appear to be a big deal to you, but it is distressing to your child and you owe it to your child to listen and be respectful while you do it. Do NOT throw in your opinion at this time. Listen intently and then repeat what your child has said so that he understands that you have understood. Until this instance has not been reached, avoid your two cents. The sad truth is parents these days, seldom do this. Sometimes, all the child wants, is a sympathetic ear.
- Now ask him if he wants help; it’s a lot like our relationship with food, it goes down easier if we’re hungry and if it’s good. Without your child’s willingness to accept your help, and your the help that you suggest being acceptable, it will do both of you little good. Take your cue from his body language and speak in terms your child will understand. A child who is devastated at the loss of his mother will not be placated by a simple “It’s going to be okay, we have each other.” The child has lost his mother, be compassionate. If the child has a teacher who is picking on him then ask him if he would like you to talk to her. In fact, here’s a radical thought… why not ask the child what he would have you do!
- Get it done; Not promoting Nike here, but hey I love the motto. So much of your child’s stress can be tackled head on if you have the vision and fortitude to do so. If it is within your means to be the solution to your child’s distress, then just freakin’ do it. I cannot begin to relate the desperate pleas of parents who have it in their immediate means to solve their kiddie issues. They lament that their child doesn’t listen to them… have you ever listened to him? They complain that the child doesn’t read, have you shown him the pleasures of reading? They come in comparing their child to ‘that cousin’ who is always getting A pluses. How many times have you compared your child proudly to all ‘those cousins’ on how beautiful your child’s soul is?
4. Acceptance: Once it is established that you have identified the issue, had a heart to heart with your child about it, and then proactively tackled the issue such that it becomes a non-issue, but sadly enough, there is nothing more to do now then just cope, your child needs to accept the situation. Acceptance does not come easy, and requires pateince, bucket loads of it, and parents owe it to their kids to teach this life-skill to their kids. Call it fate or destiny. After ALL else fails, be the anchor which your child can hand on to. Teach him the healing power of prayers, and teach him that talking about his feelings and letting them out is healthy and not a sign of weakness. Teach him, that hope is never lost. Let them know that Allah watches over them and now that nothing else can be done, they should just give the problem to Him and that should be happy with what he has. Gratitude- another failing human attribute in today’s society is a wondrous coping tool for stress.
The mental health of your child should never be second to physical. Both go hand in hand. A good many mental illnesses can be warded off with early intervention, with the ability to tackle stressful situations effectively. Kids learn these from their parents. Some kids are more prone to stress than others, but in the end they are every bit as human as we adults are. Other things to do:
- get those limbs moving
- always keep their minds actively engaged in positive tasks (clubs, friends, sports, crochet)
- assign age appropriate responsibilities and take accountability
- maintain a decorum of routine, it keeps children calm
- provide a mentor if you can not be one yourself (it happens more than you know)
- for extreme issues, there is no harm in consulting a professional, it can prevent bigger issues later on
Most importantly, BE THERE FOR THEM EMOTIONALLY, not just as a physical manifestation of yourself, but be there for them honestly and unconditionally.