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How to be a stress detective

Understanding your child’s stress

When children don’t have the words to express their emotions, they communicate with behaviour. Often this behaviour is seen as misbehaviour, but science now tells us there is a huge difference between misbehaviour and stress behaviour.

Your child’s behaviour may be showing us that his or her stress load is too high and the brain is indicating a fight or flight response, like an alarm that activates when we feel like we’re in danger.

“Punishment does not teach skills to recognise and manage stress.”

Children who cannot manage their stress have a higher chance of:

Physical issues Mental development issues
Obesity Developmental disorders
Cardiovascular disease Internalising problems
Cancer Externalising problems
Auto-immune disorders Cognitive problems
Education outcomes
Risky behaviour

What is self-regulation?

Self-regulation refers to how efficiently and effectively a child deals with a stressor and then recovers. Many children need to be explicitly taught how to do this. As parents we need to help our children to learn to identify the unique cluster of stressors which have the potential to impact on how they feel and respond to these intense emotions.

Potential Stressors:

BIOLOGICAL
Noises, crowds, too much visual stimulation, not enough exercise.

EMOTIONAL
Strong emotions; positive (over-excited) and negative (anger, fear).

COGNITIVE
Difficulty processing certain kinds of information (e.g., listening to someone talk too much can be stressful if you have a reduced verbal working memory/auditory processing difficulty).

SOCIAL
Difficulty picking up on social cues, or understanding the effect of his or her behaviour on others.

PROSOCIAL
Difficulty coping with other people’s stress.

“Tired children are less able to modulate their emotions”

First steps…

“Recognise and reduce”

When a child’s stress response is activated, his or her language skills, self-control and social skills drop significantly (we’ve all seen this when our typically gorgeous child seems to lose all of their skills and begin to yell, scream, drop to the floor, stamp their feet. This list could go on and on…).

The goal is to help them to return to a calm state and then the problem can be discussed further. We can help you and your child to learn these skills. Click here to contact us.

© Dr Nicole Carvill

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