Author: Stef, personal caretaker of Pieter-Jan and mom of 4 teenagers.
As mentioned in my previous post, stress plays a major role in children’s unpleasant behaviours. Therefore it’s very important to realize what increases and decreases their stress level.
One of the most important advices I’d like to give to help your child’s stress level go down, is introducing them to “alone-time”. Parents often feel almost obliged to be near their child the entire day, especially when their child has special needs and isn’t capable of doing most things on their own. Added to this, parents may feel like they have to keep the child entertained most of the time and may even feel guilty when they let the child sit in front of the TV for too long, for example.
While you may do this with the best intentions, it’s important to understand this can create a few problems.
First of all, because the child is used to always having a parent or caretaker close to them, they may develop a serious case of separation anxiety. This leads to a substantial rise in their stress level, every time the parent isn’t able to respond immediately.
It may also cause their stress level to go up when their parents leave them in the care of someone else or even when their parents put them to bed and leave the room. Therefore it is important for the child to experience being alone for short periods of time, very regularly. This way they learn that they are safe while being on their own, realize their parents are always coming back and will be available when they are truly needed.
Secondly, when a person is surrounded by people the entire day, they are influenced by those people’s emotions and actions constantly. Just like we may need some quiet “me-time” now and then, our children benefit greatly from being on their own regularly. They need the chance of unwinding on their own, with as little exterior inputs as possible. Overstimulation is also a common problem with children who are being entertained all day. Parents may fear their child will get bored, so they offer them a lot of activities and/or keep talking with them throughout the day. This may however be too much for many children, which will again increase their stress level and increase tension.
And lastly, children may not be aware they are an individual when they are never alone. This sense of individuality is very important and I would like to elaborate on this in a future blogpost.
Before you start introducing alone-time, bear in mind that your child is not used to this and will probably put up a fight at first. I encourage you to not give up. Start with leaving the child alone in a room for a very short time (minutes). Try not to respond immediately if they call and try not to go back in, until the time has past. Provide them with music,TV, a book, … something they like. Repeat this alone-time at least once a day and gradually build up the duration. The process may take a while, but in the long run you will see an overall decrease in your child’s stress level and a calmer child is a happier and easier child.
In addition, you as a parent will also have more time to yourself, which will lower your own stress level and subsequently lead to an even calmer environment for you and your child.
And please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.