This post is written in partnership with Stress Health, an initiative of the Center for Youth Wellness.
I’ve previously written about the current public health crisis impacting children around the world. Toxic stress stems from Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which are traumatic events in a child’s life, such as physical, mental or sexual abuse. Left unaddressed, toxic stress can have lasting physical and mental implications. You can assess your child’s risk for toxic stress by taking the quiz for Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACES, and thankfully you can reduce or even reverse its impact on your child.
Here are some ways to help your child heal from adverse childhood experiences.
When a person experiences trauma, it is often necessary to seek outside help to work through it. For children, art or play therapy can be helpful, along with family therapy. Seek a pediatric psychiatrist or psychologist to make the best referrals for your case.
Structure and Routine
Having a consistent routine can help your child heal from anxiety and assist children who are dealing with toxic stress. Transitioning between activities is a common stressor for children. The stress from transitions can be reduced by having reliable routines, sometimes referred to as anchoring rituals, that children can use as indicators for upcoming changes. Anchoring rituals, such as a solid bedtime routine, will build trust between parents and children.
Bedtime ritual example: Screens off an hour prior to bed, bath, pajamas, bedtime story, lights out.
The definition of a healthy diet is always changing, but I believe most of us can agree that a diet low in sugar and high in vegetables is always a benefit. Teaching children how to make good choices with their food, their portions and how often they eat will help them develop good habits later in life. Nutrition plays an important role in mental health as well as physical health and can assist your children on their healing path.
Sleep disruptions are a common side effect of stress. The mind can work overtime while you lay in bed at night –something that is true for children as well as adults – and lack of sleep can add to the stress your child is feeling. A bedtime routine is the first step to encouraging healthy sleep patterns, so try the following techniques to improve your child’s sleep:
- Meditation or deep breathing techniques
- Getting lots of outdoor play earlier in the day
- Reading a bedtime story
- Using a white noise machine
- Trying a weighted blanket
- Inhaling lavender essential oils before bed (unless your child shows signs of an allergy)
- Avoiding late night snacking
- Using medication (when recommended by a doctor)
Daily exercise is the easiest way to increase endorphins and improve your mental well-being. It also increases serotonin, leading to better sleep patterns. When families spend time together being active, they develop stronger relationships and help your child heal. Here are some fun ways to be active as a family:
- Bike riding
- Geocaching on foot
- Building a snowman
- Team sports, like baseball or hockey
- Going to the playground
- Kayaking or canoeing
- Walking to and from school together
- Taking part in a fun run
- Jumping on a trampoline
Combining these strategies can provide your child with the routine, support and healthy habits he or she needs to recover from toxic stress. It will also help provide them with the tools they need to cope through any future stressors.