Many parents are surprised to learn that preschoolers can experience both acute and long-term stress that can have negative affects on their development and health. If you are bathing feeding, and dressing your tyke, what do they have to be stressed about? Actually, a lot of things. Understanding how the world works, separating from you as they grow up, and being unable to communicate their needs and feelings can be stressful.
While it is normal for your child to experience some stress, it is important that you moderate the amount of stress they experience by not expecting too much of them too early. This may mean enrolling them in fewer activities and assessing how stressful their current preschool environment is.
Your Child Shows Frequent Signs of Stress
It is important that you know the common signs of childhood stress, such as nightmares, overreacting to small stimuli, increases in fighting or violent behavior, and recurring headaches or stomach aches. Each child experiences stress differently and they may show few signs or atypical signs. One of the best indicators of a stressful environment is a change in your child's behavior. If they become withdrawn, more tired than usual, or throw more temper tantrums, they may be suffering from stress.
Your Child's Focuses On Academic Excellence
The academic standards for young children are increasing, and children in many states are expected to know many academic skills, such as writing letters, reciting the alphabet, counting to twenty, and writing their name before they even enter kindergarten. These tend to be skills that preschoolers are ready to learn, and many preschoolers are enthusiastic about adding these skills to their list of growing abilities. However, all children learn at a different pace and some preschoolers may be struggling with emotional and physical development and not ready to tackle academic coursework.
If your preschool advertises an emphasis on academic preparedness, you may want to discuss how this is implemented with your child's teacher. These skills should be taught in a fun, low-stress environment, through games and activities rather than structured lessons. If your child is excited about learning academic skills, they can continue practicing with you after school, but you should try not to pressure them with extra curriculum while they are at home and give them plenty of time for free play.
Your Child Often Compares Their Abilities With Their Peers'
If your child compares themselves to other children and their mood is affected by whether they are better or worse than their peers, this can be a major source of stress. First, you will want to determine if the comparison is natural for their age or if it is the sign of an outside influence. It is not normal for children to start comparing themselves with others until they are about 7 or 8. If your 3 or 4 year old is comparing their progress to their peers' it is a sign that there is outside pressure being put on them. Teachers often do not realize how something as simple as progress charts that are displayed to the whole class can affect an already anxious child.
You should try to ease the pressure on your child by supporting them at their current level of development and not asking too much of them.
If you find that your child's preschool environment is stressful for them, it doesn't mean you should immediately withdraw them. There are plenty of benefits to attending preschool and disrupting their established routine may be more stressful. Instead, talk with their teacher and get more information about ways you can work together to reduce the stress in your child's life.