How to Calm a Stressed Child

Stressed child

12/11/2018 9:25am

It’s not uncommon for children in foster care to experience symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. With much uncertainty hanging over their home life, it can be easy for them to feel overwhelmed and unsettled; feelings which can often manifest as fearfulness, emotional outbursts, or anger.

Seeing a child in distress can be upsetting, but there are things you can do as a foster carer to help them, reassure them and help them feel settled and comfortable in your presence. Here, we offer practical steps you can take to put them at ease.

First Steps: Understanding the Source of Their Stress

The first step in combatting stress and anxiety is getting to the root cause of the problem. From here, you can come up with an effective strategy that will deal directly with the issue, taking the burden away from the child and preventing them from internalising harmful negative thoughts and feelings.

Encouraging an open and transparent dialogue with your foster child, whatever their age, will help you to form a bond of trust. Take the opportunity to spend time together, perhaps carrying out a simple task, as this will act as a natural lead-in, helping the child to feel comfortable in your company and giving you a platform from which to chat about their feelings.

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Sadly, the majority of foster children have been affected by some form of trauma which, when left unchecked, can cause problems with self-confidence, trust, and anxiety. By understanding their history and encouraging an open conversation about how it makes them feel, you can lend an empathetic ear and help to reduce the likelihood of them feeling stressed, isolated and anxious.

Both negative and positive changes in a child’s life can have a major impact on their stress levels, so take things slowly at first and try to avoid overwhelming them. Reducing stress is about normalising feelings of sadness, anger and anxiety, showing them that such negative feelings are a part of life, and that there are healthier ways of dealing with them.

Practical Tips for Reducing Stress in Foster Children

Often, vulnerable children who show signs of stress and anxiety are simply in need of positive support from someone who will listen.

Here, we offer several practical techniques which can help you calm a stressed-out child.

Use Positive Affirmations to Counter Negative Thinking

From the minute they’re removed from the family home, children live through stressful situations which many adults have never been exposed to, and this can have a detrimental impact on their confidence and self-worth. Stress is a by-product of negative thinking, and it needs to be tackled head-on.

Positive affirmations can help a child counteract negative thoughts and emotions. Have them write out things like what they love about themselves or what makes them happy or teach them to say it out loud whenever they pass a mirror. Personal affirmations like this can help children of all ages reconnect with their sense of self and combat negative emotions.

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Introduce Controlled Breathing

Although rooted in mental trauma, stress and anxiety are very much physical conditions which can be lessened by simple calming exercises such as controlled breathing. Taking slow, deep breaths will help to manage stress and anger, reducing their heart rate, removing pent-up energy and easing their mind away from an imminent temper tantrum. Introducing controlled breathing will help your child whenever they feel over-stimulated, and is a technique they can use at home, at school or while out and about with their friends.

Make time to Relax and Don’t Overload Their Schedule

As touched on above, even positive change can place great strain on a child, so it’s vital that you give them alone time and avoid overloading their schedule. With much on their plate, the last thing they need is an overbearing personal calendar which demands too much of them, both mentally and physically. In the first few months, in particular, it’s important that you give them space to breathe and get used to their new environment. Always make sure there’s time in their day for them to relax away from the pressures of life – including their smartphone!

Assign a ‘Quiet Zone’ or De-Stress Strategy

When a child is feeling the pressure of stress start to build, it can be helpful to lead them straight out of the situation and into a quiet area where they can refocus their thoughts and begin to calm down. Whether that’s their bedroom or another area of the house, it should be a quiet and safe place where they can feel completely comfortable and relaxed.

Another tip is to come up with a tactic which helps them to combat stress head-on. Physical activity is often a great way of reducing stress, so take them out for a walk or get them exercising in the garden. Other activities can distract their mind and help them to relax, too, including things such as drawing or colouring in. Try to find something that they like doing and become immersed in, and this is the thing which will likely help them.

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How to Adjust Your Own Behaviour to Help Calm a Stressed Child

With a stressed-out child or teenager on your hands, it can be easy to forget the advice above and let your emotions get the better of you. But, while it can be all too easy and instinctive to meet anger with anger, this will only compound the problem and potentially jeopardise the building of a positive relationship between you and your foster child.

Here, we offer a few tips on how to adjust your own behaviour to help defuse a situation and calm them down.

  • Stay calm – it may sound obvious, but a calm presence is exactly what a child needs when they start feeling stressed. Even positivity and over-excitement can cause stress, so no matter how you’re feeling in a situation, try to remain a calm, approachable and dependable presence for your child’s sake.
  • Be a role model for positivity – even on the toughest days, a positive outlook can go a long way and will have a big influence on how a child in your care is feeling. Try to remain upbeat and optimistic, taking life’s challenges one step at a time without letting them get the better of you. This will help your child to rationalise their own worries and form a more positive outlook.
  • Make time to take care of yourself – if you’re stressed and worried, your child will be too, so it’s important to rest up and make time to take care of yourself. Scheduling time for your own emotional needs will have a positive influence, showing them that self-care and love is the stuff of life.
  • Show your child your vulnerabilities and imperfections – children of all ages feel enormous societal pressures, be it to do with their performance at school or how their clothes look when out and about with friends. Fear of imperfection can quite easily lead to stress, so encourage them to embrace their mistakes and imperfections, and don’t be afraid to show them yours, too.

To find out more about how the NFA can help you become a foster carer, visit our homepage or call our friendly team today on 0800 044 3030.