Many adults think that young children, especially infants and toddlers, don't really notice or understand what is going on around them. Sometimes adults might think, "They will never remember this, so it doesn't really matter to them."
However, even infants notice what is happening around them and can be affected by stress, especially the stress of their parents and caregivers.
Young children don't have the ability to understand the world like older children or adults do. So changes in routines and in people around them can easily make young children worried or anxious, even though they often cannot explain or tell us about their worries.
What young children need the most is a sense of safety and security from parents, which they feel when caregivers hold them, reassure them, stay calm with them and listen to them.
Common Reactions to Stress in Young Children
It's important for adults to remember that young children don't have the language or skills to talk about what is upsetting them.
But young children do show us when they are stressed, worried or upset. It's important for adults and caregivers to pay attention to young children's behaviors and think about how these behaviors might be showing us how children are feeling inside.
Common reactions to stress in young children include:
• Increased crying
• Sleep problems
• Increased worries such as when separated from parents or at nighttime
• Temper tantrums
What Caregivers Can Do
Young children need their parents to comfort them and to keep them feeling safe and secure; they are too young to do this for themselves. It is hard to comfort children when caregivers or parents are stressed themselves, so do the best you can. Some effective ways of helping young children when they are upset or worried or stressed include:
• Reassuring them that you will keep them safe through verbal reassurance.
• Keeping the home quieter, like turning the TV volume down, playing soothing music, dimming lights, etc.
• Encouraging expression of feelings through play and books and stories.
• Maintaining regular routines.
• Getting fresh air and physical movement/exercise.
Stress Management for You and Your Young Children
Parenting is hard, even in the best of times. It can be even harder when parents or caregivers are stressed themselves about what is happening around them. Be kind and gentle to yourself. A few important things to keep in mind to take good care of yourself during this time:
• Shift your expectations and priorities to focus more on what gives you a sense of calm, peace, purpose and fulfilment.
• Reach out and stay connected to people you trust through video chats or phone calls or other safe ways of communicating.
Ideas for Activities to Promote Positive Interactions
• Face-to-face positive games such as peek-a-boo, patty cake.
• Quiet time reading books, looking at pictures or playing with toys.
• Playing with chalk or taking a walk or playing with bubbles outside when the weather permits.
• Singing or dancing and listening to music.
Stay positive, productive and proactive. We will get through this together.