While a healthy amount of short-term stress could be beneficial to our little ones, chronic stress can lead to long-term mental and physical health problems, including anxiety and depression, as well as high blood pressure, a weaker immune system, obesity and heart disease.
The sources and outcomes of stress may not always be the same for children compared to adults. School, tension at home, big life changes, friends and relationships, and even social issues, may contribute to stress in children.
However, many of the healthy ways in which adults may manage stress can be adapted to help children too.
- Keep a good balance
Help your child to find a healthy balance between tasks or chores, physical activities and rest time. Create a daily schedule together and place it somewhere where everyone can see it.
Physical activities could include play, exercise or sport. Rest time doesn’t have to be lounging in front of the TV, but could include relaxing creative activities such as arts, crafts, music or even reading. Also, don’t forget that all children are different, so some may need more rest than others.
- Spend time outdoors
Our bodies naturally produce vitamin D when we are directly exposed to sunlight. It helps to regulate your mood and relieve the symptoms of depression, including fatigue, social withdrawal and feelings of hopelessness.
Vitamin D is also essential for normal bone growth and development, as well as a healthy immune system. It also helps to regulate calcium and phosphorus absorption.
Make sure that your child spends at least 10 to 30 minutes outdoors to get enough of this ‘sunshine vitamin’. Remember to apply sunscreen.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
What we eat can play a large part in helping us to cope with stress and the anxiety we feel as a result. Eating too little or too much are often reactions to stress, therefore, make sure that your child doesn’t skip any meals or overindulge in unhealthy snacks. Avoid processed and refined sugary drinks and foods.
Make sure that your child drinks plenty of water and include complex carbohydrates, such as whole-grain breads and cereals, at meal and snack times. Complex carbs may help to increase serotonin, a mood-boosting hormone. Also include salmon or tuna, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables in their diet. These foods contain nutrients that help the body to metabolise and use serotonin efficiently, which helps to boost overall feelings of wellbeing.
- Talk about it
Stress may leave children feeling irritable or even short-tempered. Other behavioural changes may also become evident, such as fatigue or anti-social behaviour. Create a safe environment where your child feels comfortable to discuss their problems with you. Talking, or even writing, may help your child put things into perspective and find solutions.
- Look on the bright side
Help your child to focus on the positive. For example, instead of worrying about being slow to learn a new skill, help them to be proud of what they have already achieved. Help them then to focus on the steps they could take to succeed again. This may help to calm anxious minds as they focus on the process rather than on the goal, which may seem overwhelming.
- Get enough sleep
Like adults, when children feel stressed, they may have trouble falling asleep, sleep more than usual or feel tired all the time. A bedtime routine, fixed bedtime and conditions conducive to sleep, such as a quiet, cool environment, should help.
Children aged 3 to 5 years need 10 to 13 hours of sleep per night, while 6 to 12 years old children should get between 9 and 12 hours of sleep per night.
Discourage the use of screens during the hour before bedtime and, if possible, activate the blue light filter on any devices used. Blue light may suppress melatonin, a hormone which helps to control the sleep-wake cycle.
Bestmed can help too
Bestmed Medical Scheme offers a free wellness programme to all beneficiaries across all plans, including children. An adult beneficiary need only complete a free health assessment at a participating network pharmacy to unlock the following Bestmed Tempo wellness programme benefits for their child dependants:
- Ages 0-2 years: Baby growth and development assessments done at a Bestmed Tempo partner pharmacy clinic – 3 assessments per year
- Ages 3-12 years: Assessment performed by a Bestmed Tempo partner occupational therapist (1 per beneficiary per year)
- Ages 13-17 years: Assessment performed by a Bestmed Tempo partner biokineticist (1 per beneficiary per year)
Bestmed has also partnered with the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) to offer its beneficiaries a free 24-hour mental health helpline to support those who experience mental health issues. Your child may also find this Bestmed Tempo wellness programme benefit helpful to manage stress.