STRESS IN KIDS

Sarah Harris N.D.

Specialist Naturopath – Holistic Nutritionist – Herbalist – Homoeopath – Remedial Therapist

How well are your children handling stress?

Unfortunately, stress is a normal part of our children’s life.  As a Specialist Paediatric Naturopath, I see many children whose lives are now so stressful; they actually become sick [off it].  As a mother of three, I have witnessed the huge amount of stress children are living with. 

Sometimes stress can be so overwhelming, it feels like it is taking over your child’s life.  Good stress might show up when your child is called on in class or when a task needs be finished. ‘Tummy butterflies’ or sweaty hands can be signs of this.  However, it can be harmful if stressful feelings keep reoccurring or continue for a long time.

Thankfully the body has an amazing, protective stress response system to cope. This stress response was historically designed to kick in a life or death, fight or flight situation.  Nowadays, this same response can be activated every day! This ongoing activation by the nervous system, right from during pregnancy, can lead to symptoms of illness and mood disorders that are becoming increasingly common in children.

RECOGNISING THE SIGNS OF STRESS

Depending on the type of stress and how long your child has been experiencing it, you may be familiar with some of these signs and symptoms that can occur in acute (short-term) stress or with ongoing stress (long term).

Mental signs of acute stress

  • Worrying and anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Irritability
  • Poor concentration

Physical signs of acute stress:

  • Fatigue
  • Sleep Disturbances
  • Muscle tension
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Energy fluctuations
  • Alertness
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Weakened immunity
  • Tummy troubles

GETTING THE RIGHT TOOLS

When under stress, an overworked stress response system requires even more nutrients than usual. This is because the body needs vitamins and minerals to produce the hormones and neurotransmitters (the brain’s messengers) required to adapt to the stress and bring the

body back into balance.

B group vitamins: B vitamins are needed for healthy mood, motivation and wellbeing. They are vital for producing energy, as well as the neurotransmitters that promote happiness, relaxation and sleep.

Magnesium: When stressed, the body may require more magnesium than normal. Magnesium can be beneficial for many things including managing stress and improving energy. Magnesium can also be used as a muscle relaxant. Due to its relaxing qualities, it may improve mood and sleep. Always ask your Naturopath about the best form of magnesium for your child that is both well absorbed and well tolerated, minimising the risk of potential gastrointestinal effects.

Taurine and Glutamine: These amino acids are required as building blocks for your neurotransmitters. They can also help to calm the nervous system, as well as protect against the damage that stress can cause.

SETTING UP THE FOUNDATIONS

Along with the nutrients that be used in times of stress, aiming for a nutritious diet can help your child to maintain the health of their nerves, digestion and immunity long-term. What happens to your child’s diet when stressed? Do they you eat a lot, or do they make poor food choices when stress means being short on time, patience or energy?

• During times of stress, sugars and refined carbohydrates should be avoided as much as possible.  Whilst they provide quick energy, they do not fuel the body with nutrients needed to cope with stress.  They can ultimately lead to mood and energy fluctuations and even weight gain.

• Protein from fish, lean meats, eggs, legumes and nuts can provide your child with amino acids to fuel their brain function whilst sustaining them for longer and this ultimately minimises those stress cravings.  Fish, in particular, contains both protein and essential fats, (otherwise known as omega-3 fatty acids) which can support a healthy stress response and healthy mood.

Eating healthy food is a great start. 

After 20 years as a Naturopath, I would really encourage you to reflect on my questions below. 

Working on some or all of these will help your child to deal with stress by exploring the other ways to encourage your child to handle stress.

IS YOUR CHILD GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP?

Below are my general guidelines by age group, keeping in mind that each child is different

Age group           Recommended amount of sleep in 24 hours

4–12 months       12–16 hours, including naps

1–2 years              11–14 hours, including naps

3–5 years             10–13 hours, including naps

6–12 years           9–12 hours

13–18 years         8–10 hours

WHAT IS YOUR CHILD’S BREATHING LIKE WHEN THEY ARE STRESSED?

Relaxation exercises such as breathing in slowly through the nose, and then breathing out slowly through the mouth is a simple but effective way to cope with mild stress. Teach and encourage your child to do this at least two to four times when they are stressed.

DOES YOUR CHILD HAVE A BALANCED SCHEDULE EACH DAY?

As a guide each day should have components of learning, play, rest, exercise and food.  Don’t worry, if some days are unbalanced, just start again the next day by coming back to the schedule.  Children love being part of the creators of this schedule. Some parents even have a copy on the fridge so that everybody is on board.

Of course, all this advice is general so please reach out to your Naturopath to discuss how you can best manage your child’s stress. With guidance and these simple tips, your child can strengthen their mind and body to become more resilient.

In health and happiness, 

Sarah