Helping all children become happy learners
How do you get your child to tell you when they're stressed?
Often the first obvious sign of a child getting stressed is when they are screaming and shouting or they have become totally withdrawn. In order to avoid these incidents you need your child to become more self-aware of when their stress and anxiety levels are rising and have the confidence and communication skills to let you know.
A rating scale can help communicate the child's level of emotional arousal - their anxiety or stress level. Using a reource like a rating scale card can help your child become more aware of their emotional state. See article on emotional regulation for further information.
Actively teach your child calming strategies. This can include breathing techniques and distracting activities that help your child to cope better when feeling stressed. Link their use to the rating scale to help your child identify sooner that they may need to calm themselves.
Identify a quiet area where your child can go when they begin feeling stressed - reinforce message "When I'm feeling upset I can go to my quiet place. This can both be a signal that they are stressed and a positive way of self-managing this stress.
If space is limited use a pop up tent to provide safe place. Also useful to take away on visits and holidays.
Speaking through art
Help your child to express themselves through activities like drawing pictures, play dough and other mediums. They can also write down things that upset them. They can also place these in a worry box as a way to communicate to you that something is wrong. It is not important how good the art is or whether the message is readable. Instead use it as stimulus for conversation and ask your child to talk about it.
Model stress management
Reinforce message that it is OK to feel frustrated and angry sometimes but not to scream and shout. Try to model this yourself so they learn from your actions. Use 'I' statements to convey how you feel when stressed.
A social story can be used to explore an anxious or stressful event and help the child to learn appropriate strategies to remain calm. You may be interested in the hundreds of social story examples available.
Keep a diary
Try to keep a record of incidents and times when you are aware of your child feeling stressed. This can help establish patterns and can also be useful as part of discussions with your child. For example:
I can see that you have been a bit quiet when you get home from school on a Wednesday. Can you tell me about your day at school?
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