Helping toddlers cope with stress
Children become stressed when things are frustrating. Too much stress is not good for their development, but there are ways to manage it.
Dealing with frustration
Toddlers can feel frustrated and stressed when they want to do things for themselves but don’t have the skills to do it. Being unable to explain what they want to do is also frustrating.
Page 21 of the Whakatipu booklet Te Kōhuri 1 says ‘Pēpi copes with stress much better when he feels safe and secure in your love.’
Ask the whānau:
Have you noticed any signs that your toddler could be stressed? Signs can include:
- changes in sleeping and eating
- changes in emotions – being sad, more anxious, withdrawn, clingy or angry
- more crying or tantrums
- fears and nightmares
- needing to self-soothe more with thumb sucking or using a dummy or a comfort object.
Looking for signs of stress
Because toddlers can’t yet say what they’re feeling, adults have to look for signs that might indicate their child is experiencing stress. Ask:
- Have you noticed any of those behaviours from your child?
- Yes? Can you tell me what happened?
- What did you do to help relieve your toddler’s stress?
- What do you think might be stressful for them?
Brain science tells us that feeling stressed often and for too long can be harmful to a child’s development. That’s why it’s important to help a toddler to learn how to get back to a calm state.
Ideas for avoiding stress
Here are some other ideas that might be useful for helping kids avoid stress:
Keep to familiar routines for eating and sleeping. Ask:
- What sort of routines do you have around eating and sleeping for your tamaiti?
Keep calm. Ask:
- Can you tell me about how you manage when things get stressful for you?
Give extra one-to-one time and attention. Ask:
- What sorts of opportunities do you have to give your tamaiti one-to-one attention?
Have a balance of quiet time and active time during the day. Ask:
- What ways have you found to get that balance of activity and quiet times for your tamaiti throughout the day?
Watch for ‘over scheduling’ of a toddler’s day. Ask:
- What sort of pace of activities do you have for your tamaiti? How do you make sure they’re not too busy?
Name their feelings for them. Ask:
- Have you found a way to talk with your tamaiti that helps them explain their feelings?
If possible, introduce big changes (such as moving to a big bed or changing child care) in stages to give them time to adjust. Ask:
- How do you plan your toddler’s day when there’s a lot going on in the household?
Provide reassuring hugs and kisses. Ask:
- When you look at the baby wall frieze, what does it remind you to do?
Share picture books about toddlers who get upset but become calm again. Ask:
- What books or stories are helpful for talking about feelings with your tamaiti?
Monitor what they’re watching on TV as some programmes can cause or increase anxiety. Ask:
- What effect do some television programmes have on your tamaiti?
We can’t prevent stress, but we can help a child learn coping strategies, and we can offer them love and support.
Lots of play activities are particularly soothing for stressed kids. These include sand, water, play dough, bubble blowing and any activities that are favourites. This may include snuggling up with a whānau member for a story or a book, or singing, dancing and moving to music.
We can also look at Ara mātua – parenting pathways for 19–24 months. An environment where parental behaviours reflect ngā ara mātua will not only help tamaiti general wellbeing but will also help them to develop strategies to handle the stresses and strains of everyday life.
Helpful resources for whānau
Whānau Āwhina Plunket: Stress and parenting
Parenting can impact your mental health in many ways, and increased levels of stress is one of them. This page has ideas for coping with stress, tiredness and anger.
Whānau Āwhina Plunket: Dealing with tantrums
Tips on how to avoid tantrums, and what to do when they happen.