Managing Your Child’s Emotional Health
What you should know
Causes of childhood stress
Although it may be hard to imagine, children can and do get affected by stress. Even infants can become distressed if, for example, they sense a parent’s stress or anxiety. The causes of stress in children can be internal or external and range from separation anxiety to hearing about something scary in the news to academic and social pressures.
Signs of stress in children
It is important to be on the lookout for signs of stress in your child. These can range from behavior changes such as mood swings or clinginess, physical changes such as stomach aches and headaches, academic changes such as changes in performance or trouble concentrating, and many more. It can be hard to determine if your child is stressed, acting out, or just growing up. However, if you are concerned, go with your instinct and try to find out if something is bothering your child.
What you can do
Where to start
If you think your child is acting out of the ordinary, the first step is to talk to him. Sometimes children can easily verbalize what’s on their mind. Next, talk to his teachers, coaches, or others he interacts with regularly, even friends if he is older, and find out if anyone else has noticed any changes in your child. Finally, talk to both your child’s school counselor and pediatrician about your concerns and what you should do.
Tips for minimizing stress in your family
- Look and listen to your child to see if he/she is stressed. If you think something is bothering her, ask her. Also talk to teachers, coaches, and others your child interacts with.
- Learn to set limits for both yourself and your child. There is only so much each of you can be expected to do. Life isn’t always easy but try to stay positive. Ask for help if you need it and find ways to deal with your own stress so your child does not pick up on it.
- Spend time together regularly as a family. Try to find activities that all of you enjoy.
- Be realistic about your expectations. Remember that no child is perfect. Understand that winning isn’t everything and making mistakes is perfectly normal.
- Look for well-organized activities for your child as well as coaches and teachers who will boost his self-confidence. If you and/or your child do not feel comfortable with a person or a situation, explore that feeling and talk to whoever is in charge.
Finding a therapist for your child
- Sometimes even children just need someone else to talk to. 10-20% of children and adolescents have an emotional or psychological disorder warranting professional help.
- When searching for a therapist, ask for referrals from pediatricians, guidance counselors, and even other parents. Many therapists are specifically trained to work with children.
- Personal chemistry between therapist and patient is very important. Meet with the therapist in person and bring your child along. Kids need to feel that they are in a safe, protected place. Take your child’s feelings into account and make sure she is comfortable with the therapist.
- Judge a therapist by how thorough her evaluations are and how respectful and emotionally sensitive she is. If at any time you or your child feel uncomfortable, listen to your instinct.
- Trust is the most important aspect of your child’s relationship with the therapist. In order for things to work, try to respect your child’s private relationship with the therapist and trust that the therapist will tell you what you need to know.
Using the school counselor
- Often times, children find themselves dealing with problems that they have trouble facing alone. School counselors can be a great resource to help children cope with the difficulties of their everyday lives.
- School counselors are specially trained but are also able to help with things that are not school-related. They know about all of the current issues affecting students, ranging from study skills to substance abuse to planning for life after graduation. School counselors are present at the elementary, middle, and high school level. They can refer students to outside resources if they need additional help.
- Schools have different policies on how to go about meeting with the counselor, but they are there for all students. Students can meet with the counselor even if the issue is not school-related. Private meetings are the most common, but often times group meetings can be helpful for students dealing with similar issues.
- Students and parents don’t need to know exactly what’s wrong – the school counselor can help them figure things out. Conversations will most likely remain confidential; however, if the counselor thinks the student or someone else is at risk of being harmed, he or she is required by law to tell those who need to know.
This information was compiled by Sunindia Bhalla, and reviewed by the Program Staff of the Massachusetts Children’s Trust Fund.
Healthy Kids, Happy Kids