Similar to adults, children often feel stressed for many reasons – school, homework, peer pressure, sibling rivalry – but their feelings are often dismissed and they aren’t given the support for them to deal with it, says Childline Foundation and Toy Libraries director Datin PH Wong.
“Asian, including Malaysian, adults seldom take note that children also have feelings. And parents often dismiss their children’s feelings without realising that these young ones can feel stressed too.
“As parents, we need to recognise that our children do have feelings and if they’re unable to handle these feelings, then we’ve to find out what’s happening to them and what’s troubling them,” she says.
“Children may not be as skilled as adults in managing their emotions yet, and the very young ones haven’t learnt the language to tell people how they feel,” she adds.
Recognising signs of stress in your child
Stress manifests differently for every child and therefore it’s important for parents to know their child in order to recognise any change in behaviour, says Wong.
“Any changes going on internally will usually be manifested in their external behaviour. For example, a child who is usually bubbly and extroverted may suddenly become very quiet or moody. Or they become less communicative and may not eat as well,” she says.
“One of the problems now is that a lot of parents are working so they normally aren’t around all the time to notice those signs. So it’s up to the care providers – the people who look after the child while their parents are away at work – to be skilled enough to recognise these signs that the child is anxious, worried, or sad, and needs help,” she adds.
What to do when your child is stressed
You need to firstly identify what is troubling the child, says Wong.
“Parents must be able to communicate in a supportive way and not simply assume that the child is just causing trouble. Communicate with the child to find out what exactly is wrong, whether those feelings are valid and if they can do anything to help the child overcome the problem,” she advises.
Children can get stressed for many reasons.
It could be issues with their friends or their school/homework and sometimes, they just need advice on how to deal with it. So parents need to find out the root cause of what’s troubling the child before it can be addressed.
“One of the things parents can do is to ask the child for their opinion. Get them to tell you how they’re feeling and what they think they can do to solve the problem,” she says.
“A lot of times, parents don’t consult with their children. But children can learn to solve the problem themselves, they just need to be given the opportunity to learn how to. We need to be there to show them the way and guide them,” she adds.
Solving the problem together
As Asian parents, we need to move from trying to directly solve the problem for the child to discussing with the child how “we can solve the problem together”.
“During the flood, when adults were stressed, and they had to get their lives together, very few thought about how the children were feeling or even talked to their children about the trauma that they just went through,” cites Wong as an example.
“Sometimes, it’s because parents feel they don’t need to. And although children may be great survivors and they do survive, there are some who aren’t as resilient or emotionally strong, and these are the ones who’ll have issues – so we can’t take things for granted,” she says.
Asian parents also, she says, tend to be over protective of their children.
“They will say ‘let me do it for you’. They’ll tell the children what to do and even what to study or what careers to pursue and even though it’s with good intention, it may not always be the best way for the child,” she adds.
“Instead, isn’t it better to ask the child and let them learn how to make the decision themselves?” she asks rhetorically, adding that they can learn to be more independent this way.
“Acknowledge them and how they feel, ‘Yes, you feel upset, so let’s think through this and find out what’s causing you to be upset.’ So the child starts thinking, ‘This is how I can solve my problem,’ and they learn,” she concludes.