Children Learning to Communicate When Stressed

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

The boy’s face started turning beet red and his fists became clinched. He thought how unfair it was that he was not able go out with his friends and instead having to stay home. Rather than calmly discussing the situation, the boy began to scream at his parents.

Children frequently struggle in being able to express themselves appropriately when they are stressed. The source of the stress can vary and depends on the child. Some get stressed when being denied something they want to do while others react when being called names or forgetting their homework at school.

Regardless of what caused the stress, children need to learn how to communicate their ideas, feelings, and interests in a better manner. This is where parents can come in and teach strategies that allow children to regain control of themselves.


One strategy is for parents to teach children that when they get upset, they should go to a quiet place to take a break from the situation. Once a quiet place has been identified, parents should practice with them and also teach them a short, easy to remember phrase to say before they leave. A phrase such as, “Pardon me, I need a break.” allow children to leave in a socially appropriate way. They can then calm down and come back to the situation.

Another strategy is to practice possible stressful situations that might or have occurred. Parents can create cards of these various situations. After running through the situation and seeing how children respond, parents can discuss what might be more appropriate responses. This can include figuring out what questions children might need to ask or who they would need to go to for help. The practice gives children better preparation to address the situation in an effective manner.

A third strategy is to remember situations that were stressful in the past and to plan on how to avoid them from occurring again. An example would be a child who always forgets his lunch at home which causes him to cry right before lunchtime. Parents can put up visual reminders on the door as he leaves for school to remind him to take his lunch or even put his lunch in his backpack the night before. When parents put a system in place, they need to make sure that it is convenient for the child and requires little time or instruction.

A final strategy is to find something children can use to reduce their stress. A stress ball or a lucky rabbit’s foot are a couple of options. Whatever is chosen, it helps if the stress reliever is small so that children can carry it around with them. These stress relievers serve as a positive way that children can get rid of their stress and give them time to collect their thoughts before they start communicating.

As children get older, they typically get better at being able to express themselves appropriately when they are stressed. However, they are likely to get to that point more quickly when parents take the time to teach strategies on how to cope with the stress and express themselves in a positive manner.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Tuesday on November 15, 2016

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