Category Archives: signs of stress in young children

Setting Limits

Posted September 21, 2015

June and July 2010 214 (2013_03_14 14_28_22 UTC) mid Nov 078

by Amy Lemieux

Giving children choices and freedom is a hallmark of modern parenting. It empowers them and encourages independence and determination. I bought into this philosophy wholeheartedly.
What I did not initially understand was that giving children choice and freedom has its limits, as I learned from my husband’s grandma. “Big Grandma”, as she was called, adored our children and thought they could do no wrong. We were regular visitors at her house and our kids had free reign when we were there. Her cupboards and refrigerator were open. Her craft room, which looked like Joann Fabrics, was fair game; scissors, glue, buttons of all shapes and sizes, and fabrics were at their disposal. Since she raised six children, three children under the age of four was no match for Big Grandma.
One night after they blazed through popcorn, ice cream, and made placemats out of cut up greeting cards, my son came into her living room and walked across her couch. “Nick, get your feet off my couch. We don’t walk on furniture. We walk on the floor.” I’m not sure who was more surprised, my son or my husband and me. Big Grandma had never corrected our kids before. She looked at us and said, “In my mind Nick can do no wrong, but if he walks on other people’s furniture, they won’t like him.” Her words stayed with me because she was so right.

Studies have shown that children do need to know they are not in charge. Not having rules and expectations creates anxiety in children and causes them to test their boundaries precisely because they are trying to figure out what the boundary is. Metaphorically speaking, a lack of boundaries makes the world too big and unpredictable. Children need a solid leader who is clear and confident about what the rules are and is committed to ensuring those rules are followed.
Studies show that children’s self-esteem is directly correlated with limit-setting. Children who are demanding, constantly testing, and defiant annoy others, including their own parents. The child can sense people’s feelings toward him/her. The bottom line is that children without limits feel lonely and unhappy because they don’t understand the reason for others’ feelings about them nor do they know what to do about it. These same studies have shown that parents’ guilt, ambivalence and inconsistency will be picked up by most children.
When you find yourself getting annoyed by testing behavior, it is often a sign you need to be clear and direct with limits. A few years back, a parent asked us to help problem-solve a situation regarding carpooling with another family. The mother had agreed to carpool and was worried that her child “wouldn’t let” another little girl ride in his family’s car; as soon as he heard of the carpool plan, he began arguing about it, saying he didn’t want the little girl in his car. It was easy to help the parent see that this was an adult decision. The child does not get to decide who rides in the family car; the parents do. Some decisions and limits are for children to make; should I wear my red shirt or my blue shirt? Should I have one apple slice or two? Bedtimes and the type and amount of screen time are adult decisions. Wavering on adult decisions will create the perfect storm and kids will go in for the kill!  A child who repeatedly asks for “five more minutes” has figured out ambiguous limits.
Communicating clear and consistent boundaries remains true for teenagers! When I find my teens repeatedly asking the same question in a variety of different ways, I get irritated and it is a great reminder that I need to be clear and direct.
Son: “Can my prom group sleep over at our house after prom?”
Me: “I’m assuming there are girls in your prom group, so no.”
Son: “But everyone sleeps over for prom.”
Me: “The girls can do their own sleepover. You can have the boys sleep here.  The girls leave at midnight.”

Son: “What if all the girls get notes from their parents giving them permission to sleep over and they sleep in a different room?”

Me: “Girls are not sleeping at our house after prom. Not even if their house burns down. Not if their dads all come and sleep here with them. No girls who aren’t your sisters are sleeping here.”

That’s the limit and I’m sticking to it.

The Holidays: Family Memories or Family Stress?

Posted December 5, 2014


by Jenny Kleppe, Autumn Room Teacher

A survey done by the American Psychological Association reported that more than eight out of ten Americans anticipate stress during the holiday season. Households with children were more likely to report experiencing stress during the holidays than those without. Families want their holidays to be happy, especially for children. Many parents do not realize that the holiday season is a time of hustle, bustle, and a never-ending whirlwind of stress for their children.

Where do these stressors come from? Results from the same survey indicated that for adults, increased costs around the holidays is a major stressor, but the biggest stressor is the pressure Americans feel around this time of year; pressure to buy “enough” gifts, serve the perfect meal, buy the right gifts, meet others’ expectations, and feel merry throughout the season. It does not help that we are bombarded with messages from the media that we have not done enough, i.e. “only X more shopping days!”

The vast majority of children’s stress at holiday time can be linked to one simple matter: their normal routine is disrupted. Bedtimes are pushed back, naps are forgone, meals and snack times are changed. Adults often forget that extended family can feel like strangers to young children and places like a great aunt’s house can feel foreign and intimidating. Children are often warned to be on “their best behavior” at relatives’ houses or religious services. Formal clothes are worn, which can be uncomfortable and not conducive to normal play. Playtime and regular family time is shortened as errands must be done, decorations must be hung and parties attended.

It is important to remember that children (and parents) need time to relax in order to enjoy this wonderful time of the year. Children are not at ease when they see their parents running around frantically shopping, baking, decorating and trying to meet unrealistic expectations.

Last Christmas, my husband and I drove ourselves crazy with how much we tried to cram in over the holidays.  We had a new baby girl we wanted to show off, as well as out-of-town relatives who all wanted to meet her.  We attended five family parties, two friends’ parties, hosted an event ourselves, appeared at an office party, volunteered at our church and attempted a trip for New Year’s.  We shifted our baby’s schedule to match all the commitments we’d made and had no time for our first family Christmas.  The results were not fun, relaxed, or merry.  Our five month old, who had previously been sleeping through the night, began waking every two hours.  We were sleep-deprived, ornery and stressed.  This year will be different.

Here at All Seasons, we teachers often remind each other that while we do many wonderful things, it is not necessary to do every wonderful thing every single day. This same idea can be applied to the holiday season. Instead of making an insurmountable list of holiday chores, do what’s most important. Try to stick as close as possible to your family’s routine, even if that means saying no to some of the festivities.
Here are some signs your child might be feeling holiday stress:
• Tears for seemingly minor reasons
• Nervous behaviours such as nail biting, nose picking, and hair twirling
• Physical complaints including headaches and stomach-aches
• Regression to younger behaviours: bedwetting, temper tantrums
• Withdrawal from school, friends and family

For families, gift giving AND receiving contributes to the unnecessary flurry and chaos. Gift giving does not need to be about quantity over quality. Many families have found success in this quality over quantity gift giving mantra: “Something I want, something I need, something to wear, something to read.”  Four gifts. Not fourteen. No outfits that will never be worn, not several “some assembly required” projects, not a pile of plastic toys that will be broken or cast aside as soon as the next thing comes along. Four special presents. Not only will this reduce stress for the entire family, this mantra can also be helpful to teach young children the importance of quality over quantity.

Simple ways to reduce stress for the entire family:
• Stick with routines as much as possible.
• Say no. You don’t have to accept every invitation to cookie swaps, parties and gift exchanges.
• Nutrition; everywhere you go, there are treats. Treats are “sometimes foods.”  Kids need the essential “every day foods”.
• Stay healthy. During the season of mingling, wash your hands and your children’s hands. Teach your child the importance of using tissues and covering coughs.
• Rest and relaxation; everyone, especially a child, needs time over the holiday season to rest and relax. A well-rested child will be much happier on a trip and better behaved for visits than one who is overtired.
• Favorite things; if you are traveling for the holidays, bring your child’s favorite blanket or stuffed animal. A bit of home will help your child feel more comfortable.

Do less to gain richer and more meaningful experiences with your children. This will help ensure that rather than creating holiday stress you’ll create cherished holiday memories.

*Source, U.S. Department of Health, 2012