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Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 23, 2017

Help children deal with stress

By Iowa State University Extension Service | Apr 09, 2014

When most adults hear the word “stress,” they often think about jobs, household chores, financial challenges, parenting responsibilities and difficult relationships with friends and family. The idea of stress in childhood is often dismissed. No bills, no work; what’s there for young children to be stressed about? Young children, however, experience the world very differently than adults.

“With emotional and thinking skills that are still developing, the things that can cause stress in children often come from their limited experiences and their attempts to make sense of their world”, said Kristi Cooper, family life program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. “For example, a minor change in a schedule, or rearranging a room, can cause significant stress in a young child trying to find order and patterns in every day experiences.”

“Relationships with trusted adults are crucial in early childhood, so changes in these relationships can be especially stressful for children,” Cooper continued. Parental separation or divorce, military deployment, or even a parent who works long hours during planting or harvesting seasons, can be very stressful for children.

Tasks that are too difficult or too easy and expectations for behavior that don’t match the developmental stage of the child also can add stress. Young children build the foundations of good self-esteem when they are able to meet expectations and manage age-appropriate challenges successfully.

To help reduce stress in their own lives, adults can plan ahead and make adjustments when minor changes occur. They can go for a walk or exercise, turn on some music, call a friend or curl up with a good book. When young children experience stress, they are at the mercy of trusted adults to help reduce the sources. Fortunately, there are a lot of ways adults can help.

First and foremost, young children need close personal relationships with a few adults, Cooper said. “Compassionate adults who are patient, calm and understanding with children and their fears can help children feel safe and secure.”

One-on-one time between adult and child is also important. This time doesn’t have to be lengthy or expensive. Everyday routines like bathing, feeding, dressing or reading a favorite book can provide valuable one-on-one time, Cooper said.

“Young children are learning to manage their environments. An atmosphere that allows some messiness as children practice new skills can reduce the stress children experience,” Cooper explained. The specialist added that it is important for children to learn that it’s OK to make mistakes. Regular nutritious meals and snacks and periods of rest also are important considerations for childhood stress reduction.

Activities that promote big movements like running, jumping, skipping, throwing and dancing are great stress reducers for children. Research shows that being in nature also reduces stress. Painting, drawing and other opportunities to be creative can help children feel good about themselves and their abilities. Most children, like some adults, also love curling up with a good book read by someone they love, Cooper said.

April is Child Abuse Prevention month. For more information on understanding and caring for the children in your life, check out Science of Parenting, http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/scienceofparenting/, or Just in Time Parenting, www.extension.iastate.edu/humansciences/just-time-parenting (use coupon code IA10JITP).

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