How to Help De-Stress Your Young Child
Young children, just like adults, can go through periods of significant stress. It may be due to a variety of things, such as changes in the home, conflict or chaos in their environment, physical illness, or a recent loss (e.g. a divorce or death). As a parent, it’s important that you learn to identify the signs of stress and find ways to comfort and help “de-stress” your child as well. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to help when your youngster is feeling particularly stressed.
Infants are much more sensitive to their environment than many parents realize. If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, your infant will typically feel that way as well. The following things (some of which may seem obvious to many parents) will help calm your infant and decrease the stress he is experiencing:
- Hold him close and cuddle him. Cuddling triggers the release of the chemical oxytocin, which has a calming effect.
- Talk or sing softly and gently to your infant before and while you touch him. This makes him aware that you are right there for him.
- Swaddling your infant (i.e., wrapping him snugly in a blanket) just before feeding, holding, or rocking him can help him calm down more readily.
- Keep lights and noise to a minimum when your infant is stressed. Many infants are particularly sensitive to bright lights. Loud noises can also be very stressful to them. Keep his surroundings as peaceful as possible, particularly when he is stressed.
- Rock your infant in your arms, or gently bounce him on your lap.
- Put your finger in your infant’s tiny hand and let him hold it for a while. Sucking on a finger or a pacifier will also help calm him.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
- Make sure they get plenty of sleep. Nap times are crucial for young children. They have a much more difficult time coping when they are tired. Adhere to a regular schedule, as much as possible, to ensure the most restful sleep. Make sure she is eating a healthy diet as well.
- Keep your own anxiety and stress in check (this applies to infants as well). It’s been said that fretful parents make for fretful children. Your child will feel stressed and anxious if you are often stressed and anxious. This also includes not talking about stressful things in front of her. Find ways to manage and cope with your own stress to not only minimize stress for your child, but also to be a good role model for her.
- Make time for your child every day. It may be just a few minutes on some days, but always be sure to set aside some time just for her. When she is stressed, she needs your attention more than ever. Making time just for her – whether it’s to play, cuddle, read a story, or do an activity together – will also reassure her that you’re there for her, that you love her, and that she’s a priority in your life.
- Talk to your child about what she’s feeling. If she can’t find a word for it, help her out. She may be feeling angry, alone, scared, or sad. Let her know that it’s okay to have those feelings.
- Prepare her for situations that you know may be stressful for her. For example, if she’s going to the doctor, talk to her a little while before, to let her know what to expect. Use simple language and keep it brief. Reassure her that it’s going to be okay, and that you’ll be right there with her.
Pay close attention to signs of stress in your young child. The sooner you attend to it, the better. If your child continues to exhibit signs of stress regularly, despite your attempts to help decrease it, take him in for an evaluation by his pediatrician, or a mental health professional. There may be something else going on that is contributing to his stress.
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