Being a kid doesn’t mean being carefree all the time – even the youngest tots worry. Find out what stresses your kids out and how to help them cope. We speak to Azhar Napis, a consultant paediatrician at Columbia Asia Hospital Iskandar Puteri, for the best ways to approach this issue.
Anxiety is a normal part of life and a very common mental health problem, affecting up to 20 per cent of children and adolescents. “As children grow, they go through different stages of anxiety. For instance, a young child becomes anxious when separated from their parents or carers. Separation anxiety gradually eases off at around two to three years old,” says Azhar.
Though some stress is normal – it gives us the drive to push ourselves harder to achieve our goals – too much of it causes more harm than good. “Stress becomes problematic when a child’s daily activities become affected. They may refuse to go to school, have poor appetite, and not sleep well at night,” explains Azhar. Some children who are overwhelmed by stress even withdraw from their family and society, resulting in poor self-esteem and a lack of confidence.
“Seek help when your child exhibits behaviour that deviates from their usual character,” says Azhar. If your child’s anxiety persists or interferes with daily life, get help as soon as possible.
Ways to help your child cope with stress.
- Listen to your child
Calmly ask your child what’s wrong. Listen with interest, patience, openness and care – avoid passing judgement and blame, or lecturing your child on what she should have done instead. “The idea is to let your child’s concerns and feelings be heard. Try to get the whole story by asking questions like, ‘And then what happened?’” says Azhar. Take your time, and give her time as well to explain the situation.
- Help your child think of things to do
If a specific problem is causing your child stress, talk to her about . “Encourage your child to think of a couple of alternatives to the current situation. You can kick-start the brainstorming session, but don’t do all the work,” advises Azhar. Support any good ideas that she proposes, and if it’s needed, add yours to the mix. This will help to build her confidence.
- Limit stress where possible
See if you can change the way things are now. For instance, if your kid complains to you about how after-school activities are causing her to stress over homework, perhaps you should look into limiting her extracurricular activities to leave time and energy for homework.
- Introduce the concept of time and self management
You could also teach your child about time management. Show her how to organise her daily schedule and prioritise important tasks. Adequate sleep and rest can also ensure she’s ready to face daily problems, says Azhar, so don’t let your kid stay up too late.
- Do regular exercise or outdoor activities
“When the going gets tough, encourage your child to take a break and relax,” advises Azhar. Simple but effective exercises you can do together to relax include singing, dancing, and colouring. Physical workouts like cycling or swimming are not only good for keeping the body fit and healthy, but also to help ease the mind and build mental strength.