20 Oktober 2020 | Gesundheit

Turning that frown upside down

Stress amongst children might be seen as them just being extremely difficult and distant, but these signs indicate that your child is dealing with a lot.

Mariselle Stofberg



We try to be strong and resilient and positive, but the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted everyone’s lives. As adults, we feel unsure, uncertain, sad, angry and confused and these feelings are so much worse for children whose whole routine has been affected.

Stress amongst children might be seen as them just being extremely difficult and distant, but these signs indicate that your child is dealing with a lot.

“Signs of stress amongst children, especially younger children, may become evident when the child displays behaviour that can be considered inconsistent with previous behaviour patterns. Younger children may become clingy, insecure and sad, interspersed with periods of unexplained anger and acting out,” said Dr Anina du Toit, a clinical psychologist at Let’s Talk Psychology.

“Sometimes you may notice that younger child regresses to a previous stage of development; in other words, they lose the ability to perform tasks that were previously mastered, such as feeding themselves, dressing themselves, retaining bladder control or sleeping in their own bed. This can often be an indication that the child is experiencing a certain amount of stress,” she added.

Stress amongst children can also present as anxiety, new or recurring fears, not able to control emotions, sudden changes in behaviour, clinging or separation anxiety.

“These stressors can lead to bed wetting, nightmares, decreased appetites or even physical symptoms with no physical illness present. It might appear differently in every child,” said Shamyn Louw, a senior helpline counsellor at LifeLine/ChildLine.

What can you do as a parent?

Louw said the first thing parents can do is ensure that their child(ren) are well informed and educated about the pandemic. Once this is in place, there will be a better understanding in terms of why schools are closed, why they cannot be outside with friends, why they need to wash their hands, etc.

“Secondly, parents should explore positive coping mechanisms with their children to ensure that they have a way of handling this, even when they might feel at their lowest. It is also important for a child to know that they are allowed to feel any emotion that comes up, but the most important thing is how they deal with that emotion,” Louw added.

Thirdly, she said, parents can also check in with their children to get individual responses and find out how they are doing. “It is important for parents to actively listen to the child and what they are saying and acknowledge their emotions as a child has a voice of his/her own. It is not only limited to what is mentioned above, every household is unique as well as every child.”

Answer questions

Parents must make time to answer children’s questions as and when they arise. “Allow the child to lead the conversation and do not present unnecessary information that may escalate the child’s anxiety. It is also important that parents answer questions calmly and soothingly and refrain from transferring their anxiety to the children,” she said.

It is sometimes helpful to stick to a predictable daily routine to foster a sense of control during these times of uncertainty. Regular bedtimes, mealtimes, time for exercise and study as well as leisure time may create a sense of normalcy and can go a long way towards alleviating stress.

Limiting screen time and increasing shared family activities may also give children a sense of security and shared closeness.

Creating safe spaces

In order for parents to create safe spaces for their children, it is important to make sure the home environment is safe and comforting for the child. You can look at ways of making things fun at home like watching your child’s favourite TV show with them, playing games and spending time together whenever there is an opportunity.

“Parents can also encourage the child(ren) to engage in physical activities and join in as well or allow the child opportunities to make choices or help out in the house,” Louw said.

Using movement

One way in which parents can help their children to relax and constructively deal with stress is through kinderkinetics, which can help children physically, mentally and emotionally during this stressful time.

“Because kinderkinetics is mainly movement, once the children start to move and are active, their brain releases endorphins which are the happy chemicals. They trigger a ‘feel good’ response in your body which leads to reduced stress and an overall good feeling. It’s the same when we as adults go to the gym or go for a run – our body releases endorphins and we feel good after our active session,” said Wilmari Woest, a kinderkineticist at Dynamic Kids Kinetics.

“This is why it is so important to encourage physical activity and being active, even if it is only a few minutes every day. Being active is one of the best ways to lift a child’s spirit. The easiest is to make a game of it, for example, pretending the floor is lava and you can only walk/climb on furniture or you are not allowed to touch the lines on the floor so you have to jump between the lines,” Woest added.

She said pairing a story or a theme to physical activity also engages the child’s imagination and thus they are stimulated mentally as well.

Stress is inevitable, but as a parent, you can try to find constructive ways for your children to release their stress.

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