ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How to Help a Stressed Out Kid

Updated on October 22, 2012

Response Particulars to a Stress Disordered Child

Often, in the treatment of children with diagnosed stress disorders, the treatment approach of the adult (what the adult does, and how the adult responds) is counter-intuitive to how we might ordinarily respond to an acting out child.

The following response particulars will be presented this way: the behavior the child is engaging in, the adult response , and then the reason for that response.

Building stress: Once we become aware that a child is stressed ,we need to respond appropriately. If we do not, the child will likely escalate in their behaviors. Most adults can spot when a child is becoming stressed out. Generally, the child with stress disorder will have much more subtle signs over a longer period of time. Adults may need to become much more observant of children who have diagnosed stress disorders. One way to understand the stressed child is to think of a glass of water: we all have some stress in our “glass”. A child with stress disorder has a glass that is nearly always full. When enough stress is collected, the glass will overflow with symptoms (behaviors). If signs of stress are spotted early and responded to properly, there can be very good results in treatment.

Cues and triggers: Adults in contact with a child who has a stress disorder diagnosis need to learn about and become sensitive to the child’s cue and trigger behaviors. These can be very dramatic, or they can be very subtle and hard to see. If adults do not attend to this important and basic aspect of the child’s treatment, the child’s healing will be delayed, or even halted entirely.

A stressed child’s behaviors come out of cues and triggers. A cue is something in the child’s environment that reminds them (often unconsciously) of something related to their trauma event that triggers a stress reaction. A cue can be an item, a smell, a taste, a noise, a tone of voice, a physical gesture, or even just a thought. There can be hundreds of cues for someone with a stress disorder, and other people can not do much about avoiding them. Sometimes, a particular few cues and known triggers are revealed, and then these can be avoided, especially by those adults treating the child. Cue and trigger behaviors for a child may include such things as increased distractibility, finger nail chewing, glassy eyed stare, apparent ignoring of adults or peers, combativeness, or physical intrusions. Many other cue and trigger behaviors follow below.

Stress Break: Constructing a routine “stress break” for the child can be very effective in heading off full blown stress episodes. It also supports the treatment objective of helping the child to recognize their own stress levels and learning how to self calm. The break can be as simple as allowing or directing the child to engage in a behavior that is known to be calming to them. This could be cuddling a stuffed animal, listening to music, reading a story book, doing prescribed breathing exercises, or playing with a toy. In the classroom, a “secret signal” can be arranged between the adult and the child, so that the child may access (or the teacher direct) a stress break quickly, with little distraction in the classroom. Many adults feel that such breaks are indulgent to the child. They see the acting out behaviors in the context of either defiance or a spoiled child. Nothing could be further from the child’s reality. These adults are not understanding the intensity and anguish of internal distress that the child is undergoing. Essentially, when a child has been cued and triggered into a stress episode, their bodies and minds are reacting the same exact way that they did when their original trauma was taking place (read: flood, earthquake, fire, rape, physical abuse, sexual abuse, food deprivation). Once this is understood, any adult should be able to be compassionate and begin to follow a treatment plan that is designed to help the child avoid escalations of this highly painful state.

Response Particulars to a Stress Disordered Child

Defiance or general acting out: Use a normal voice tone devoid of pressure and inflection. Try to keep your voice as neutral as possible, but firm. Make your directive brief and to the point. You may repeat the directive once more, but do not keep repeating or elaborating. You may choose to direct the child to take a “stress break.” Following your initial presentation, turn away from the child and give them opportunity to self calm, or comply with directive to take a stress break. (See

“stress break”). You are trying to avoid adding any extra stress or pressure to the child than is absolutely necessary. Most adults add more pressure by raising their voices or making threats to get an oppositional child to respond. With stress disordered children, this only increases their resistance to us, and will likely trigger a full blown stress episode.

Tears, pouting, crying: First, use all of the suggestions above. Try not to react to the tears , pouting, or crying. Treat the upset with matter of fact recognition of their distress. (“I can see that you are upset”). You might offer a choice to the child, and identify the choice that you think is the better one. If the child is expressing tears in an over reaction, you may also say to the effect: “There is no reason to be crying right now….(give directive).” Do not over elaborate or engage in debate with the child. Turn away from the child and allow them time to either self calm or take a stress break. You are trying to communicate to the child that while you can see that they are distressed, they need to follow your directions Your calm voice and low intensity approach tell them that your directions are not threatening to them. If you would raise your voice or intensity, the child will likely trigger to a full blown stress reaction. Children with stress disorder are easily cued and triggered by adults who react to the child in ways the child is anticipating. When we react to the child in ways that (perhaps a perpetrator) did, the child will escalate.

Demanding, hostile, nasty, oppositional: Use all of the responses that appear in “defiance or general acting out.” Using a neutral, non-intense tone of voice, give an immediate directive for a “time out”. It is important that this “time out” be immediate, and not “later”. It is also important that this “time out” be clearly different from a “stress break”. This can be done by making the “time out” a particular chair or place (never the bedroom, or out of an adult’s sight). You may also call the “time out” place something like “the naughty chair”. When giving your directive to go to time out, be very careful about physically approaching the child; do not make sudden gestures, keep proximity reasonably distant. If you approach, approach slowly. It is important to keep your voice tone normal, because if you raise it, you may trigger a larger reaction. Adults do not have to yell or threaten to be effective in being firm! Once again, we need to respond to the child in a manner that is different than what they may have experienced in the past. A stressed child needs to have immediate penalties for misbehavior because one of the symptoms that they may have is a poor memory. This is an effect of the trauma they have experienced. If we wait until later (as in, “no recess for you today“), they will simply experience the later penalty as cruelty. They may also trigger into a stress reaction when recess time comes around.

When the child balks at a directive or given task: By now, you should have the “neutral, firm tone of voice” idea firmly in mind! Remember to avoid debating with the child. Give a choice when appropriate, and encourage that the child “make a good choice”. Give your directive, and repeat it once if needed. Give advisement about the consequence of not following the directive or completing the task. Then, turn away and give the child time to self calm or take a stress break. Follow up within five to ten minutes by repeating the directive. If the child continues to refuse, apply the (immediate) consequence. When a child with stress disorder has a negative behavior, it does not always mean that it is stress related, but it could be. That is why you use the same basic “neutral firm tone” when approaching them. Many adults begin to anticipate that each time a stress disordered child is upset, the child will escalate. In anticipation of this, the adult behavior and approach may change subtlety, become more anxious of a bigger upset. It is important to note that the adult’s anxiety and stress can actually trigger the child !

Response Particulars to a Stress Disordered Child

Poor attention and lack of focus, and rushing: Again use your neutral, firm tone of voice to give directives to refocus or slow down. This directive can be repeated, but take a closer look at the child following the second prompt. If the inattention and focus problem continues, prompt the child to take a stress break. Children with stress disorders are often labeled “attention deficit-hyperactive” when they are not. When a child is highly stressed (just like you or me), their attention and focus suffer. Their activity may become scattered and disorganized. Rushing through tasks, such as schoolwork or chores, is very common. This rushing is a form of “flight”. These signs are a clear sign of building stress towards a full blown stress episode. If adults do not take note of this and provide needed support, there will likely be acting out behavior in the near future.

Bossy or tattling: Using your neutral, firm tone, remind the child that being the boss or tattling is not their job. If they repeat the behavior, make your statement again, but this time with an advisement about an upcoming consequence (“time out“). Children who are stress disordered have had one or more traumatic events in their lives that they had absolutely no control over. Thus, control becomes an important issue to them. Many children become very bossy, or tattle, or become rigid in the way they want something done (how their sandwich is cut, for example). When they do not feel that they have any control, they may escalate because the situation (lack of control) reminds them of when something bad happened. Whenever possible and appropriate, it is good to give choices to a stress disordered child. It is also very wise to be sure that they know upcoming events and situational changes. When these children are surprised, it can trigger feelings of loss of control, and then acting out behavior.

Helpless/hopeless: This is a situation where you can abandon your “neutral, firm tone”! Now is the time for positive, upbeat, and encouraging directives. State your confidence in the child, cite their strengths, give compliments, then move on. Give the child added encouragement when they begin to demonstrate work and success. Stress disordered children can get very discouraged and tired of their constant, roller coaster feelings of stress. Imagine having the feeling you get at the top of the first hill on a roller coaster two or three dozen times a day! These children often need extra nurturing and encouragement, and this is not indulgent to the child. In some cases, the child may have been very deprived of this kind of support in their past. In any case, a child is a child: they need adult nurturing reassurances, and encouragement.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)