Helping young children manage stress and anxiety

by Department of Public Health and Social Services
Stripes Guam

Kariñu – an early childhood mental health promotion program – under the Department of Public Health and Social Services would like to share some tips for parents, caregivers and families on helping young children between birth to five years of age cope with stress and anxiety.

Just like adults, our children experience stress and anxiety and need our help to deal with it. As parents and caregivers, we can learn to recognize signs of stress and give our children skills to help them manage their feelings, emotions and behaviors.

Here are some ways your child may express his or her emotions and behaviors during stressful situations.

• Become clingy, impulsive and distracted

• Show nervous movements, such as twitches

• Have problems getting to sleep or staying asleep like they usually do

• Have sweaty hands, faster heart rate and breathing

• Have nausea, headaches and/ or stomach aches

Here are some ways you can help your child manage stress and anxiety:

1. For young babies, give them more positive, physical attention. Also recognize that for some, babies, touching can be irritating or overwhelming. Learn to read your baby’s cues and adapt to them the best you can.

2. Acknowledge that their feelings of stress and anxiety are real.

3. Create a safe and supportive environment for them to share their feelings. Allowing them to talk and ask questions and you giving honest answers and information. Use words and ideas your child can understand. Some young children may not be able to talk about their feelings and emotions and may be more comfortable with drawing pictures, playing with toys or writing stories. It’s also important to remember not to force children to talk if they do not want to.

4. Teach them how to rate their fears on a scale of one to five with five being the strongest. For young children who can use their bodies to explain this, such as “I’m scared up to my ankles; I’m scared up to my knees; I’m scared up to my stomach”, and so on.

5. Be there for your child. Sometimes when children feel stress and anxious and don’t want to talk about it, they usually don’t want to be alone. Do something interesting or fun together, like reading a book, playing make-believe, going to park, playing ball, baking cookies and watching a favorite TV show or movie.

6. Continue your child’s daily routine. Young children like routine and consistency. Continue doing what you do as a family. This will help children keep feelings of normalcy and comfort.

7. Limit your child’s exposure to negative media on TV, social media, newspapers, etc.

8. Be patient with your child. You may feel like you want to solve all your children’s problems and make them feel better right away. It hurts to see your children unhappy or stressed. Focus on helping your children feel loved, safe and secure.

Remember that children, most especially young children, read off your emotions and feelings. If you are feeling overly stressed and anxious yourself, try to take a time out from your children, always ensuring their safety first and foremost, and do some activities to reduce your anxiety and stress levels such as: taking deep breaths, going for walks, writing, reading a book or listening to music. Talk to someone close to you, such as a friend or family member and reach out for help.

For more information on understanding young children’s feelings, emotions and behaviors, contact Kariñu at 478-5400. We are located on the 2nd floor of the Terlaje Professional Building in Hagatna. Office hours: Monday thru Friday, 8am to 12pm and 1pm to 5pm.

• Terry G. Aguon, Acting Human Services Program Administrator- terry.aguon@dphss.guam.gov

• Helene Paulino, Project Director – helene.paulino@dphss.guam.gov

• Jobeth Aquino, Social Worker III, Early Childhood Mental Health Clinician – jobeth.aquino@dphss.guam.gov

• Lavina Camacho, Social Worker III, Early Childhood Mental Health Clinician- lavina.camacho@dphss.guam.gov

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