We’re living with stress in epidemic proportions, and children are affected too – but they show it in very different ways to us adults.
What’s the story?
While most of us can (just about) cast our minds back to the highs and lows of our school days, the pressures and anxieties facing pupils today mark an all-time high.
Recent stats from the NSPCC suggest anxiety-driven demand for counselling sessions is spiking, having risen by a massive 59% over the last two years.
The charity has seen a rise in sessions specifically related to exam stress as well, with 12-15-year-olds most likely to seek help.
Last summer more than 80 per cent of primary school leaders reported increased mental health problems in pupils during exams, with cases of stress, anxiety and panic attacks rising in more than three-quarters of schools.
Tag on worries created by the use of social media, with children as young as 8 struggling with ‘sharenting’ (parents sharing embarrassing photos, errr) and cyber bullying, and you have a toxic cocktail of stress.
What is stress?
Being stressed is the feeling of being under too much pressure, mentally or emotionally.
It’s sometimes difficult to articulate what ‘feeling stressed’ is like, especially if a child has never experienced it before. Determining how much pressure is too much from the outside is difficult too.
We’re all different; what might be a motivational situation for some children, may be highly stressful to others.
Recognising symptoms of stress in your child is the first step to maintaining their wellbeing.
The symptoms of stress include:
- Lack of appetite
- Upset stomach or stomach pain
- Low self-esteem
- Aggravation of pre-existing skin conditions
Is YOUR child showing signs of stress?
Anxieties can manifest very differently in teens and kids, and children often find it tough to recognise and communicate when they’re stressed.
You can usually spot it through changes in behaviour, such as: acting irritable or moody, giving up activities that they used to love, whinging about school more often, crying, nightmares, being easily startled, being clingy, sleeping more than usual or not sleeping at all, binge-eating or losing appetite and relying on habits such as hair chewing or thumb-sucking.
With teens, they may avoid you excessively, ditch long-time friendships for new friends or become hostile to family members.
Yes, we KNOW that could easily be normal teen ‘eye-rolling behaviours’ – it’s when it’s extreme that there’s cause for concern.
Some young children might describe physical stress symptoms like a feeling in their belly, and older children might act out or want to spend more time on their own.
Young people are adapting to lots of changes as they grow up, so it’s normal for them to express raw emotions and change moods quickly.
But if your child is consistently struggling, or if they seem to be upset over a long period of time, it’s important to take it seriously.
Parents often instinctively know when their child is going through something – so trust your instinct.
What can you do?
Helping your child through a stressful stint could involve passing on a few of your own stress-management tips; whether your strategies include mindfulness and holistic therapies or invigorating exercise in green spaces, your whole family can reap the rewards.
First, though, comes communication.
Dealing with stress means talking about it and acknowledging it. Saying “Yes, this is a really stressful time.
Dad’s lost his job and we have a bit less money but we have a plan” or “OK, you may have to retake that exam. Let’s look at your options”.
Don’t burden them with unnecessary information or worries, but try to listen without bringing your own anxieties into the conversation and let them know their problems are containable.
And don’t stop working on your own peace of mind. It’s extremely hard for parents to see their children go through difficult times, and it can have a huge impact on the whole family.
So remember to look after yourself, too.
The importance of a healthy routine
Taken in isolation, it’s possible to overlook some of the symptoms or confuse them for something else.
Teaching your child a healthy routine will help them deal with increasing demands as they go through school, and will decrease the likelihood of them becoming stressed.
Comfort foods high in fat, or sugary drinks containing caffeine, can make children feel tired and less able to deal with anxiety.
The best solution is to give your child a high-fibre, low-fat and carbohydrate-rich diet which includes lots of fruit and vegetables. These types of food give them a boost without sapping their energy.
Getting enough sleep
A good night’s sleep can lower stress, while it is also important in helping the brain function, and impacts its ability to store information and help us learn.
A regular sleep routine is easily said, however, it can be challenging if your child is anxious about what’s happening at school.
Limiting the use of phones or tablets before bed time will help them switch off. Blue light, such as the light from a smartphone screen, can suppress production of melatonin, leading to decreased drowsiness or restful sleep.
Equally, stimulating activities on a phone, such as games or chat, are counter-productive to sleep preparation.
Fresh air and exercise can also help them nod off quicker when bedtime arrives.
Exercising releases endorphins in the brain and improves their mental well-being.
Exercising is particularly important during high periods of stress such as exam time.
In addition to sports lessons during school time, encouraging children to get involved in extra-curricular activities, such as learning to swim or joining a Saturday football team, is also a great way to complement their learning and help them unwind.
Stress related skin conditions
Anxiety can aggravate pre-existing skin conditions such as eczema, acne, dandruff and psoriasis.
In these cases, the condition can create more stress for your child so finding successful treatments to ease their discomfort is paramount in maintaining healthy wellbeing.
Eczema affects people of all ages but is primarily seen in children, with one in five being affected.1
Stress is known to trigger flare-ups so keeping tension under control is key.
Equally, it’s not always easy to sleep when your skin is itchy, or to participate in sports because sweat also aggravates the condition.
Clothing your child in loose-fitting, cotton items may help to keep them cool and minimise any irritation they may have experienced from other fabrics.
When looking for moisturisers to soothe dry skin, look for creams that contain chamomile for its anti-inflammatory effects, lavender for its anti-bacterial and balancing properties, or rose, for softening and re-hydrating the skin.
Some bath and body oils are suitable for dry, itchy skin.
Encourage your child to take regular baths using a single capful of nourishing Purepotions Skin Salvation Bath and Body Oil, or ensure they apply it to damp skin following a shower to deeply moisturise the skin.
Acne occurs when the skin’s pores get blocked with bacteria, dead skin or oil, and can be common in teenagers.
Stress or anxiety can lead to the production of more oil than usual which clogs the pores and causes acne breakouts.
Acne is most common on the face, back and chest, forming spots that are often painful to touch.
Washing the affected areas, no more than twice a day, with mild soap, cleanser or lukewarm water will control it, but not clear the acne completely.
Bathing in Deep Sea Bath Salts, rich in potassium, magnesium and bromides, can help the skin, leaving it feeling much softer and smoother.
Dissolve the salts in warm bath water with a recommended soak-time of 20 minutes. This will help control the acne breakout and help your child to relax.
Stress doesn’t cause dandruff, but people under increased levels of stress or dealing with anxiety have an impaired immune system which causes dandruff to flare up.
Targeted dandruff shampoos and conditioners clean and protect the hair and scalp, moisturising and protecting both while stimulating the fibres.
Using paraben– and SLS-free products like Jason Dandruff Relief Shampoo, for instance, can help to stop dandruff. This type of hair product can help control scalp dermatitis and mild psoriasis, which can occur during periods of increased stress and anxiety.
5 methods of relaxation for children
Breathing exercises help reduce stress and anxiety in children, just as they do with adults.
However, for children, breathing exercises are a lot more accessible for them if you can provide visual cues.
You can teach your children how to breathe from the belly with this simple technique.
Tell children to inhale through the nose and imagine smelling a flower.
You can also ask them to put their hand on their belly to feel it inflate. When they breathe out, tell them to exhale through their mouths and imagine they are blowing out birthday candles.2
Yoga for children
Yoga often comes very naturally to children; sometimes, they are doing poses without even realising.
Recognised as a powerful positive coping method, many schools have devoted time in their timetables to yoga practice.
Poses, such as Cat-Cow, Downward-Facing Dog, Tree Pose and Warrior I and II, are fun and imaginative for children.
As beginner poses, they also do not require too much flexibility, so are great for adults to learn yoga alongside their children too.3
Techniques for children’s meditation
Providing children with something to focus on when practising meditation techniques makes it easier for them.
For example, try blowing bubbles and ask children to imagine their worries contained in the bubbles, as they watch them float away.4
Another good idea is to look at the clouds together. You could do this in the garden or even from the window.
Ask children to think about what shapes they can see. Do they remind them of characters in stories or places they have been?
Focusing on these calming shapes will help them to relax.5
A mindful walk
We all appreciate that sometimes children can find it hard to stay still.
However, mindfulness can also be practised while on the move. Go on a walk for your daily exercise and encourage your children to be mindful as they walk.
They could think about how their body feels, their feet on the ground and their arms, as they swing gently.
Alternatively, they could focus on their surroundings, what do they see, smell or hear?6
Relaxing creative activities
Creative activities have been shown to help reduce stress and anxiety.
By becoming absorbed by a task, we feel a sense of calm and happiness. Children can also enjoy these benefits.
Perhaps sit together and enjoy sharing a quiet, creative activity, such as drawing, colouring, collage or modelling with playdough, to help them relax.