Stressed-Out Kids: Learning to Deal with Life's Ups and Downs
In This Article:
Recognizing the Behaviors That Signal the Emotions of Stress
Stress sneaks up on us, and as a result we often don't even realize it' taking its toll. Kids never say, "Gee, Mom or Dad, I'm really hurting. Instead they throw tantrums, hit their siblings or the neighbor kids, for get their homework, start having toileting accidents after having been trained for two years, complain of headaches and stomachaches, and refuse to sleep in their own bed or to go upstairs alone. You probably have a few words you could use to describe a child who acts this way but "stressed out" probably isn't the first to come to mind. That's why it's important for you to recognize some of the typical stress behaviors. As you read through the following scenarios, you'll also notice that adult exhibit many of the same behaviors when their cortisol levels are high Recognizing stress behaviors helps you to realize that your family ha not been taken over by extraterrestrial forces. Neither you nor you child is a monster even if it sometimes feels that way but you are stressed.
Typical stress behaviors fall into two basic categories: regressive behaviors and aggressive behaviors. You and your child may find you stress behaviors falling into one category or the other, or you might demonstrate a combination of both. No one will demonstrate every on of these behaviors, nor is the following list comprehensive. The most important thing is that you recognize stress behaviors when you see or hear them.
Some regressive behaviors often exhibited by parents and kids who are stressed include these:
Lethargy and Apathy
Judy sighed, "My daughter and I had a huge power struggle yester day morning. It really scared me. I got so angry I hit her. I have to be out of the house by seven a.m. My husband and I are separated, so it's jus my daughter and me. I needed her to get in the shower, but she wouldn't. She just laid on the couch in a fetal position, hugging the cal refusing to listen and do what she was told. I can't do it all alone. She has to help me, but she wouldn't. That's when I lost it. I finally jus hauled her out of the apartment. When we got home that night, I felt terrible. I asked her, 'Why was it so important to you to lay on the couch with your cat?' She turned to me with big brown eyes and whispered 'My daddy gave me my cat and my daddy doesn't come home anymore Here I'm thinking it's an affront of my parental authority or I've produced a lazy, irresponsible child, and the kid is grieving!"
Stress robs kids of energy, making it very difficult for them to comply with requests and perform even the most basic of tasks. They're tired and want more help from us. The trouble is that frequently when our kids are this stressed, so are we. They need our help, and we barely have the energy to get ourselves out of bed. Recognizing as signs of stress lethargy and kids curling into a fetal position when they're upset help us to keep our cool and realize our kids aren't just being lazy. It's this recognition that allows us to stop threatening them with punishment and instead ask, "How can we work together to make things better?"
Difficult Separations and Disrupted Sleep Patterns
"When my husband was sent to Haiti with the army reserves for six months, I couldn't get my kids to follow routines, especially at night time. They clung to me all day and refused to let me out of their sigh. Each would have to be put to bed ten times or more, and I had to lock them out of the bathroom just to brush my teeth. The whole time I we in there, they stood in the hallway pounding on the door and screaming."
Fear is a lousy companion and fear of abandonment or loss can turn normally independent kids into very needy people. Sleep pattern become disrupted, so children wake frequently. Bedtimes and dropoffs at school or child care can become major struggles as your kids fight t stay connected to you and reassure themselves you will not abandon them. When you need them to be independent, they are most dependent, and the fights begin.
Falling Apart Over Seemingly Insignificant Things
Six-year-old Katarina was bubbling with excitement. Today was the Valentine's party at school! Running to meet the crossing patrol at the comer, she suddenly realized that she'd forgotten her stuffed anima She burst into tears, plopped down on the sidewalk, and refused to g with the patrol. Her mother, Annette, pulled her up and told her to go but she wouldn't. Knowing she'd left younger kids in the house and not having enough time to deal with this, Annette took Katarina home again. At home Katarina cried and cried. She hadn't slept well. Her dad was gone. He usually helped her get dressed in the morning but he hadn't been there. Katarina was so worried that without his help she might be late that she'd slept in her clothes. And her clothes didn't feel right. Instead of her normal pants and T-shirt she was wearing party clothes. The schedule was going to be different that day, too, and she didn't know when she was going to get to eat lunch. In the end, all of the excitement was just too much and a missing stuffed animal put her right over the edge.
It's hard to imagine why some seemingly insignificant little thing or an innocent request like, "Put your paper in the wastebasket" or "Pick up your bag," can result in a complete meltdown for your child. That's why it's important to remember it's not the "little thing" that took her down. Stress is cumulative. One thing adds to another. The cortisol levels rise and overwhelm her, and once she begins to lose it, she can't easily stop. The same is true for you. On a normal day a request to have a sandwich cut in triangles wouldn't phase you. When you're stressed, it can turn you into a shrew.
More on: Behavior and Discipline
From the book KIDS, PARENTS, AND POWER STRUGGLES: Winning for a Lifetime by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, published by HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2000 by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. All rights reserved.
Buy the book at www.harpercollins.com.