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What Are Signs of Stress or Distress in Toddlers?

Toddlerhood is a memorable and exciting time when a vast amount of physical, emotional, and cognitive growth occurs.

With all the changes happening in their little bodies and minds, toddlers are often sensitive to the world around them and are prone to stress.

Stressors can be as universal as the normal developmental stage of separation anxiety or as unintentional as exposure to the evening news. Here are some of the reasons your toddler may be feeling stressed, some common signs to look out for, and ways to lessen or alleviate her anxiety. Our exclusive range of baby nursery products will help create the perfect baby nursery for your baby.

Signs Your Toddler Is Stressed

Signs of toddler stress vary with each individual. Symptoms of stress and anxiety in children often show up as physical or behavioural changes. Children respond differently to stress depending on their age, individual personalities, and coping skills, which can cause many parents to overlook the underlying issues that may be causing their child’s behaviour.

It is essential for parents to recognise the signs of childhood stress and to look for possible causes. Parents can usually help children manage stress and anxiety, but some children may have an anxiety disorder and can benefit from professional help.

Take a look at these eight telltale signs that your child may be dealing with stress.

Nightmares

Sleep-related fear is a typical response to stressful or traumatic experiences. Telling your child stories about other kids with feelings just like theirs can help them feel better. It lets them know that you understand their feelings.

Trouble concentrating and completing schoolwork

Academic and social pressures, especially the need to fit in, are significant causes of stress for kids. While extracurricular activities can be a helpful outlet, over-scheduling adds to the anxiety. Help your child balance his priorities appropriately.

Increased aggression

Some children, when under stress, react with physical aggression (biting, kicking, or hitting) or verbal attack (screaming or name-calling). They also tend to have difficulty completing tasks that require patience. If talking with your child doesn’t help (try books to help spark a meaningful conversation), consult an expert such as a doctor or therapist.

Bedwetting

Children that are feeling insecure or have a lot on their minds may miss toileting cues. Reassure your child that you are not angry when he has an accident. See, his doctor rules out a medical condition that could cause bedwetting.

Hyperactive behaviour

When children can’t handle the stress that they feel, they release negative energy. Having temper tantrums, running away, or constantly being disobedient are ways to alert adults that there is a problem. Help your child burn off energy in a positive, calming way: deep breathing exercises, listening to soothing music, stretching, or yoga.

Withdrawing from family and friends

Moving, divorce, a new sibling, or bullying at school can cause a child to feel left out or scared. Offer plenty of positive attention and maintain familiar routines to provide comfort. Speak to your child’s teacher if you suspect she is having trouble with friends at school.

Eating or sleeping disorders

When a child is under pressure, restlessness and worry interrupt sleeping habits. A sudden change in eating habits, whether eating less or more, is another sign of stress. Getting to the root of his anxiety (often with help from a child psychologist or counsellor) can alleviate these behaviours.

Overreactions to minor problems

Sometimes, the pressure to please parents causes children to be perfectionists and worry constantly. Build your child’s confidence so he can meet challenges and solve problems on his own.

Common Causes of Childhood Stress

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Stress is a function of the demands placed on us and our ability to meet them.

These demands often come from outside sources, such as family, jobs, friends, or school. But it also can come from within, often related to what we think we should be doing versus what we’re able to do.

So stress can affect anyone who feels overwhelmed — even kids. In preschoolers, separation from parents can cause anxiety. As kids get older, academic and social pressures (especially from fit in) create stress.

Many kids are too busy to have time to play creatively or relax after school.

Kids who complain about all their activities or who refuse to go to them might be overscheduled. Talk with your kids about how they feel about extracurricular activities.

If they complain, discuss the pros and cons of stopping one activity. If stopping isn’t an option, explore ways to help manage your child’s time and responsibilities to lessen the anxiety.

Kids’ stress may be intensified by more than just what’s happening in their own lives.

Do your kids hear you talking about troubles at work, worrying about a relative’s illness, or arguing with your spouse about financial matters? Parents should watch how they discuss such issues when their kids are near because children will pick up on their parents’ anxieties and start to worry themselves.

World news can cause stress.

Kids who see disturbing images on TV or hear talk of natural disasters, war, and terrorism may worry about their safety and that of the people they love. Talk to your kids about what they see and hear, and monitor what they watch on TV so that you can help them understand what’s going on.

Also, be aware of complicating factors, such as an illness, death of a loved one, or a divorce.

When these are added to the everyday pressures kids face, the stress is magnified.

 Even the most amicable divorce can be challenging for kids because their basic security system — their family — is undergoing a significant change. Separated or divorced parents should never put kids in a position to choose sides or expose them to negative comments about the other spouse.

Also, realise that some things that aren’t a big deal to adults can cause significant stress for kids. Let your kids know that you understand they’re stressed and don’t dismiss their feelings as inappropriate.

The source of anxiety and stress in children can be something external, such as a problem at school, changes in the family, or a conflict with a friend. Anxious feelings can also be caused by a child’s internal feelings and pressures, such as wanting to do well in school or fit in with peers. 

Some common causes of stress in children include:

Academic pressure

Many children experience anxiety about wanting to do well in school. Academic pressure is prevalent in children who are afraid of making mistakes or afraid of not being good at something.

Significant changes in the family 

Significant life changes such as divorce, a death in the family, moving, or the addition of a new sibling can shake your child’s sense of security, leading to confusion and anxiety. For example, a new sibling can make a child feel threatened and jealous. A death in the family can create alarm and grief and may trigger fears about death and dying.

Bullying

Bullying is a severe problem for many children. It can be subtle or obvious and may lead to physical harm. Children who are bullied often feel embarrassed about being targeted, and they may hide the bullying from parents or teachers for fear of drawing attention to their perceived weaknesses. 

Catastrophic event on the news

News headlines and images showing natural disasters, terrorism, and violence can be upsetting for children. When kids see and hear about terrible news events, they may worry that something terrible might happen to them or someone they love.

Parental instability

Money and job concerns, family turmoil, and parental agitation can lead to an overwhelming sense of powerlessness for children who may feel that they want to help but don’t have the means to do so.

Popularity

For younger grade-schoolers, separation anxiety can be a common problem. As they get older, most children want to fit in with other kids and be liked; the pressure to fit in and be popular can be unbearable. Cliques and the feeling of being excluded usually become an issue once kids enter grade school.

Overly-packed schedules

Constantly running from one activity to another can cause a great deal of stress for children who usually need some quiet downtime every once in a while.

Scary movies or books

Fictional stories can also cause distress or anxiety in children. Children are commonly affected by frightening, violent, or upsetting scenes from a movie or passages in a book.

 Some kids might be more sensitive to media content than others, and it’s a good idea to know what might upset your child, limit violent media content, and stick to age-appropriate movies, books, video games, and other media.

Reducing Stress

How can you help kids cope with stress?

Proper rest and good nutrition can boost coping skills, as can good parenting. Make time for your kids each day. Whether they need to talk or just be in the same room with you, make yourself available. Don’t try to make them talk, even if you know what they’re worried about. Sometimes kids just feel better when you spend time with them on fun activities.

Even as kids get older, quality time is essential.

It’s tough for some people to come home after work, get down on the floor, and play with their kids or just talk to them about their day — especially if they’ve had a stressful day themselves. But expressing interest shows your kids that they’re essential to you.

Help your child cope with stress by talking about what may be causing it. Together, you can come up with a few solutions like cutting back on after-school activities, spending more time talking with parents or teachers, developing an exercise regimen, or keeping a journal. My Baby Nursery is your one-stop baby product store.

You also can help by anticipating potentially stressful situations and preparing kids for them. For example, let your son or daughter know ahead of time that a doctor’s appointment is coming up and talk about what will happen there. Tailor the information to your child’s age — younger kids won’t need as much preparation or details as older kids or teens.

Remember that some stress level is average; let your kids know that it’s OK to feel angry, scared, lonely, or anxious and that other people share those feelings. Reassurance is important, so remind them that you’re confident that they can handle the situation.

How to Help Your Child

There are healthy ways in which your child can cope and respond to stress. They just need some help and guidance. You can help with the following methods.

At Home

  • Create a relaxed home atmosphere and commit to a routine. Family dinners or game nights can prevent anxiety and help relieve stress.
  • Make your home a calm, safe, and secure place to come to.
  • Monitor your child’s television shows, video games, and books.

Keep Them Involved

  • Allow for opportunities where your child can have control over a situation in their life.
  • Give your child a heads up on any anticipated changes and talk through the new scenarios with them. For example, if you will be taking a new job in a new city, what will that mean for them in terms of a new school, new friends, and a new home?
  • Involve your child in social and sports activities where they can succeed.

Your Actions

Seek the advice of a healthcare practitioner, counsellor, or therapist if the signs of stress do not lessen or if your child becomes more withdrawn, depressed, or more unhappy. Problems in school or when interacting with friends or family is also another cause for concern.

Keep Calm and Carry On

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It’s important to stay calm and acknowledge your child’s feelings. But don’t go overboard.

You want to convey that you understand your child’s feelings but that nothing wrong will happen when you are apart. Your child can learn that he doesn’t have to be immobilised by stress or fear.

Use a tactic described as “matter-of-fact empathy,” where the message is conveyed through words, body language, and tone of voice that you understand how your child feels but you’re not changing course.

If a child doesn’t want to go to daycare, say, ‘I know, this is hard. I know you don’t want to go; you’re having fun at home,’ but continue your usual routine and then head out the door as planned. This way, “all of your language is saying ‘I completely understand, but we’re still going.’

Stick to the Schedule

Maintain daily routines such as going to daycare or preschool, feeding, and preparing for bedtime.

Practices allow toddlers to feel in control over what to expect and “go a long way in creating a sense of calm.

Keeping a consistent rest is particularly important because children can become stressed more easily if they are overtired.

To help your child cope with life stressors, make sure that she is getting a good night’s sleep, adequate naptime, healthy meals, and plenty of daily activity.

It’s best to postpone other changes — such as potty training or transitioning to a big-kid bed — that can disrupt the regular schedule. Wait until life has settled into a comfortable pattern.

Allot Time for Breaks

Build-in adequate time for rest breaks, naps, and preparation for activities.

Children live according to a much slower clock than adults do. They don’t give a thought to what they might be doing next.

They pause as they watch the cat sleep, examine the colour patterns in the carpet, and ponder the reasons for having toes.

So look at your schedule to make sure you’re focusing on priorities and taking time to enjoy your child’s company. Ensure that you’re not taking away any special moments by rushing to the next item on the schedule.

Plan and Allow for Processing

How parents present a stressor, how they frame and discuss it, and how they answer questions gives children boundaries on how to perceive it.

The idea is to start honest and small. If you need to tell your child about someone passing away, try saying, ‘We wanted to let you know that Grandma was very sick and she died.’ If he has questions, you can then decide how to describe it (giving a toned-down version or rephrasing it based on your beliefs and comfort level.)

If you’re trying to explain a new sibling, read storybooks about the new baby’s arrival a few weeks later. Make the initial introduction very focused on the toddler as a new big brother or sister, and keep his usual routine to make the transition smoother. Convey the message that his thoughts and feelings matter, but don’t give too much information that can’t be processed.

Monitor TV Exposure

Be mindful about what programs your child is absorbing.

When a parent is watching the news, and a child is in the room, there’s exposure to all kinds of violence. Reserve certain TV shows after the kids are in bed or limit how long you watch the evening news.

Disclosure can often be unintentional, so try scheduling different TV times for different-aged kids or make sure all the programming is geared toward a younger child if she’s in a room with others. Visit websites to see the reviews and ratings of various programs so you can make informed decisions about TV viewing.

Give Extra Hugs and Kisses

When adjusting to change, some extra one-on-one attention and a few more daily cuddles and kisses can provide just what a toddler needs to feel comfortable and get settled into new patterns.

Whether the stressor is a negative or positive one, the added affection can help boost the child’s confidence and self-regulation skills, enabling her to be more flexible and resilient to change.

Helping Your Child Cope

When kids can’t or won’t discuss their stressful issues, try talking about your own.

This shows that you’re willing to tackle tough topics and are available to speak with when they’re ready. If a child shows symptoms that concern you and is unwilling to talk, consult a therapist or other mental health specialist.

Books can help young kids identify with characters in stressful situations and learn how they cope.

Most parents have the skills to deal with their child’s stress.

The time to seek professional attention is when any behaviour change persists when pressure is causing severe anxiety or when the behaviour causes significant problems at school or home.

If you need help finding resources for your child, consult your doctor or the counsellors and teachers at school. Check out My Baby Nursery for all your baby product needs.

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