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August 7, 2020

The Covid-19 Survival Guide for Parents of Stressed Children

Are your children tantruming more than usual in light of Covid-19?  Are they clingy, distant, or generally grumpier … seemingly without cause?  These are signs of a dysregulated nervous system; signs of stress present in children.

 

What is stress?  Stress is universally defined as pressure or tension exerted on an object.  More commonly, we typically define stress as a response to a situation or actions.  For example, “I’m so stressed about the deadline for this project.”  

 

When we are stressed, the body produces stress hormones which help mobilize us to get the project/task done on time. 

 

It is when we are exposed to prolonged or chronic stress that our body & nervous system is thrown out of whack – partly due to the constant increase of hormones such as cortisol. 

 

Children’s stress responses can manifest as being disrespectful, easily irritated, angry, or frustrated.  Sometimes they can come across as overly needy (they want you to help them / stay with them, when before the pandemic they could do these things on their own). You may notice them internalizing, lost in thoughts, or withdrawing communication, 

 

A regression of any kind can occur too.  Stressed children may ‘act out’, have violent or emotional outbursts & need more help throughout their day.  They may be worried about your safety when you are away which can show up as being clingy or even bossy.

 

Unchecked, this can later lead to depression, anxiety, mood disorders, emotional pain and distance from family. We cannot risk that. 

 

Since children typically haven’t developed the awareness of their own stress responses, it is up to their caregivers to provide support. 

 

So how can we support children and help reduce the amount of cortisol & other stress-related hormones running ramp-ed in their (and our) bodies? 

 

Through movement. 

 

Specifically designed movement activities can exert anxious energy & melt stress responses in our body.  Here are five activities that you & your children can do this week to help your family combat this prolonged stress we are experiencing globally.  

 

Hop on One Foot

  • How to play:  Hop on one foot, then switch feet and hop on the other foot. 
  • Variations: 
    • Hop on one foot for a distance, or length of time (gradually increasing)
    • Hop with eyes closed
    • Hop and make circles 
    • Hop to music 
  • Do not keep ‘score’ for these, the idea is to get moving, get the energy moving and feeling connected and good in your body and environment.

What does this do:

  • Increases blood flow
  • Stimulates social connection
  • Switches brain functions to right here, right now
  • Releases ‘happy hormones’

 

Walk In Nature 

Get to a natural park; if it’s safe to do so – keep distance from others

Walk, jog, run, play tag, kick a ball

Observe wild animals and birds 

Make up stories about what they’re doing / going

    • Collect Rocks, Pine cones, twigs, shells
    • If the area is  safe, walk barefoot 
    • Close your eyes.  Listen & feel the air & energy around you. 
    • Dig, build

What does this do:

  • Elevates mood
  • Texture of natural items has a calming effect 
  • Stimulates connection to other beings 
  • Encourages Conversation, cooperation & connection  & creativity

 

Dance Party 

  • Clear some space, play some music & dance! 
  • Close eyes (it helps if you are self-conscious)
  • Variations: 
    • Listen to music in other languages / cultures – dance to the rhythm 
    • Add glow sticks and dance in the dark 
    • Make Paper streamers to dance with 
    • Blow bubbles while you dance (Pro-Teacher Tip! Have a towel nearby so participants do not slip on the bubble soap residue on the floor) 

What does this do?

  • Stimulates multiple senses simultaneously 
  • Elevates mood
  • Increases blood flow 
  • Social connection (even without touching)!
  • Coordination 
  • Mind-body-senses connection
  • Left feeling Grounded & physically present 

 

Repeat the Clap

  • How to play: Clap a rhythm and then have others follow & try to get the same rhythm
  • Example:  Leader Claps 
    • Clap, clap, clap clap clap, clap
  • The Others follow: 
    • clap , clap, clap clap clap, clap

Gradually increase the complexity, length and pauses between claps for continuous challenge & attention holding

Ex: Clap. Clap. Clap clap clap. Clap, Clap. Clap…… Clap clap clap clap. Clap clap.
What does this do:

  • Stimulates Social connection
  • Stops ‘future thinking’ 
  • Returns self / others to present moment
  • Engages multiple senses

Pro-Teacher Tip!

Use this as an in-between transition.  It helps gather attention, stop an activity, & connect with the now.

 

Bubbles! 

  • Good for all ages, infants can track the bubbles with their eyes & body
  • Older children & adults can track & pop bubbles 
    • Using hands, head, feet 
  • Variations are endless
    • Play music & pop bubbles 
    • Take turns to blow bubbles from a bubble wand 
    • Use a bubble machine & try to pop the bubbles before they reach the ground
    • Play with bubbles outside (where safe) and watch the wind carry them – try to pop them before they fly away! 

Pro-Teacher Tip!

Try saying “bubbles’ in an angry tone of voice – great to do with older children, teens & adults (it’s pretty much impossible to say bubbles while angry without bursting into laughter)
What does this do:

  • Strengthens coordination between eyes & body 
  • Regulates breathing
  • Returns self / others to present moment
  • Engages multiple senses
  • Elevates mood

Pro-Teacher Tip!

Blowing bubbles helps to regulate breathing.  Before you or your child reach peak frustration, try blowing bubbles & see what happens. 

 

Sharmeen Abeysinghe is a Registered Early Childhood Educator of 18 years, and a movement coach whose main focus is the interplay between the body, brain & nervous system; and how we can influence these through movement.  She has two brilliant boys aged nine and seven.  Sharmeen offers individual & family coaching services through her business MyAlignedLife.ca and is currently offering Family Movement Coaching where she brings together her passions and knowledge to get children & families moving & having fun in small spaces (and releasing anxious energy!).  She is an advocate of physical, mental & emotional health for all; in herself finds this through movement.  

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Sharmeen Abeysinghe  |  Contribution: 1,130