Parenting In Focus: Helping your child deal with stressful times

Many different events can bring about stress in a child’s life (or in an adult’s for that matter). Some stressful times can be good (a new baby, moving to a new house). Other stressful times are more difficult.

Stress from bad weather days, being potty trained or school being closed for COVID-19 are some of the problems that you can only control so much. So how should you handle stress with your children?

• Try to limit the number of changes that occur at one time. Life would be very tough if you are 3, have a new baby sister, you just moved to a new house, you are afraid you can get sick, and your school is closed all at the same time. Try to keep as many routines as possible such as keeping the same bedtime and nap time rituals. Read books at the same regular time.

• Make sure you reassure your child. Let him know how much you love him by hugging, cuddling, and spending time with him. This is especially important for young children who might not understand that you are stressed because Grandma is sick, or their friend is sick. This is an important task to remember no matter whether your child is stressed or not. Hugs and time together are important from birth all the way up.

• Pay attention to changes in your child’s mood. You know your child better than anyone and you will be the one most likely to realize if your child’s behavior or energy level is being affected by stress. Read books on helping children with stress and learn things you can do to help. Parenting books can be really helpful. Look in the library and see what they have.

• Talk with your child. Ask him if something is bothering him? If he says no, you can also let him know that if he is worried or sad or frustrated, he could talk to you about it. If he says yes, listen to his worries. He is entitled to worry about anything he wants. It is your job to let him know that you understand him, not to tell him that he shouldn’t worry.

Meeting fears

Children have many fears and concerns. Just think about what your child worries about. Some common childhood fears are of being alone, big animals, bugs, heights, loud noises, and things under the bed.

In this time when parents are also filled with worries and concerns about COVID, their own health and the health of their children, their concerns are frequently passed on to their children.

Even if your child has not shown that he is anxious or worried about anything, talk with him about what is going on. Remember, the private things that you and your partner talk about when you think your child is asleep are frequently overheard. Your fears become his fears. He knows you wouldn’t be worried if there wasn’t something to worry about.

Remember, your reassurance really makes a difference. You are such an important teacher.

Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which published newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents.