By recognizing signs of stress, you can help your child manage upsetting events

Patricia was concerned because her four-year-old daughter Mary had started wetting the bed suddenly. Mary also returned to baby-talk to express her needs about a week into the mandatory quarantine required by the city. Patricia was perplexed why her daughter’s behavior was changing even though she was home with her full-time now. Patricia wondered if the changes that were happening were affecting Mary.

During tough times, when there is a lot of change and uncertainty, children may just not be themselves. Just like grown-ups, kids experience stress. If changes in their behavior continue or affect their everyday life, it might be time to reach out for help.

Here are some common reactions to stress and helpful ways parents can respond:

  • If children are super-clingy or scared of being alone, use gentle words to reassure them that you’ll keep them safe and you will not disappear.
    • Little ones feel comforted and safe when there are things they can count on each day. Try to create at least one daily routine that will stay the same no matter what, like reading a bedtime story or having an afternoon snack together.
  • If children have trouble sleeping, offer a comfort object, like a stuffed animal or special blanket, to help them soothe themselves and calm down.
    • Say, for instance, “Blankie will keep you company all night, and I will see you when you wake up in the morning.”
  • If children are talking less or shying away from social situations, they may be keeping lots of big feelings inside.
    • Ask how they are feeling and if they have questions. Give them words describing feelings, such as angry, sad, scared, or worried.
  • More frequent meltdowns can be kids’ way of coping with a lack of control over a situation.
    • Try activities that help them feel calmer and in control of something, such as molding clay, doing a puzzle, or building with blocks.
  • If bed-wetting, thumb-sucking, or baby talk are reappearing, try to offer love and affection, and understand that these are normal behaviors in stressful times, and it can take time for them to get better.

The key is not to shame your child for these behaviors but recognize that they are doing their best to manage how they feel. Our job as parents is to help them learn to manage what is happening in healthy ways. While we can’t change the situation, we can make sure our children know that we love them and will stay with them through upsetting or confusing events.

–Adapted from Sesame Street in Communities

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