Nipping Stress in the bud
It would be wonderful if our child or teenager came to us during a none stressful moment (do they exist?) and calmly said, “Could we please talk to you as I’m quite stressed about a test that is happening in a couple of weeks, and I could do with some help figuring it out?”
So, if that were the case you both would feel calm, you have plenty of warnings and you have time. I think you would agree that this NEVER happens!
While that would be really helpful if your child or teenager could be articulate, most do not have the capacity or language to express themselves that clearly or calmly. Instead, it is up to us to be the stress and anxiety detectives for our children. But what are you looking for and what do you do when you do see it?
What should I be looking for?
It can be tricky but looking for changes in their typical behaviour can be an indicator that they are unconsciously sending you messages that they may be stressed or something else has changed within their life that they are not verbalising to you. I know it can be difficult when you also have other children, events and during these new [post] ‘COVID-19’ times; but keeping an eye out, and keeping a track of what you notice, and trusting your gut can go a long way to catching stress early. Never forget or underestimate that you are the expert of your child and teenager, you know them best.
Things to be aware of:
- Eating patterns – are they eating more or less than they normally would?
- Sleeping patterns – Are they suddenly not sleeping or waking up frequently during the night? Are they having nightmares or bad dreams? Are they wetting the bed?
- School performance – has there been a change? Are we informing you about the changes that we are aware of?
- Other changes in behaviour – is your child or teenager acting differently from the ‘normal’? Are they getting into fights with friends? Or are they becoming more of a recluse and spending more time away from others?
- Mood patterns – Do they seem angry or easily irritable or sad?
- Somatic complaints? – Are they suffering from stomach aches, headaches, sickness with no other signs of illness?
Please be conscious that we all have off days. However, when you start to see multiple symptoms happening over a few days, then it is time to check in with your child or teenager and become curious.
Questions that you could ask:
If you start to become aware of some changes, and you are starting to get worried, become curious, and start opening a conversation with them.
- A calm moment, ideally privately, maybe when you are sitting alongside each other during a car journey, when you are on a dog walk or walk, or when you are doing a task together;
- Be open and curious and maybe say:
- “I’ve noticed ______________________. How are you feeling these days?”;
- “I’ve seen that ____________________ . Has anything changed recently?”;
- I just wanted to check-in with you because you seem a little bit different recently. How’s everything going with you?”
Focus on ways to cope:
Together keep being curious together and help them figure out we can help them be empowered to figure out a solution and be open to hearing the ideas that they have, maybe it is getting creative and writing a whole pile of ideas together and choosing a handful of ideas that your child thinks will work for them.
It would be useful to share this with the school and other organisations that they visit so they have wraparound care.