7 Ways to Identify Stress in a Child with Special Needs

How often do we hide our stress? Sometimes we think that revealing our stress shows we are weaker, angrier, or less pleasant to be around. While stress is not healthy, hiding it is even worse. We need healthy outlets for our stress — cooking, exercising, reading — and we need to know how to identify it. This is particularly true when it comes to stress management for children with special needs; if you hide your stress, your child may do so as well. Identifying stress while parenting a child with special needs makes you better prepared to help your child. Below, learn how to identify stress in a child with special needs so you can anticipate their concerns and better manage a stressful situation.

1 First, Be Proactive

Sudden surprises, changes, or scheduling shifts can be stress-inducing for a child with special needs. You can avoid difficult situations that can grow into meltdowns if you are proactive with your child: create social stories or calendars that clearly demonstrate what your child can expect and when. This can pertain to meals, playdates, and other outings.

2 Notice Physical Signs of Stress

Stress can take many forms, some of them manifesting in physical ways. When parenting a child with special needs, seek out signs of physical stress that may include headaches, sweaty palms, trouble going to the bathroom, stuttering, or loss of appetite. These can all point to a sharp increase in anxiety. 

3 Look for Patterns

Stress in children with special needs is easier to notice when exhibited in patterns. If your child has a headache one day now and then, it probably isn’t stress that is the main cause. But if your child shows repeated instances of similar stress indicators (think tantrums, crying, bedwetting, or nausea), it is more likely a sign of stress.

4 Don’t Forget Emotional Stress

Emotional stress can be harder to identify than physical stress but nonetheless is a powerful manifestation of anxiety. Emotional stress may be exhibited as trouble concentrating, social withdrawal, nail biting, or foot tapping, among others.

5 Listen for Changes in Volume

Your child may speak much louder or softer if stressed. When experiencing stress, children may speak or talk in a quicker or slower cadence.  They may also increase or decrease the volume or the pitch of their voice.  As a parent, being on the lookout for these cues can better prepare you to help your child through difficult situations.  

6 Keep an Eye on Restlessness

If your child moves about restlessly, has a hard time going to bed, or doesn’t want to sit still or concentrate, they may be experiencing heightened levels of stress. Physical activity, proper eating, consistent bedtimes, and participation in hobbies can elevate self-esteem and happiness, while also reducing stress.

7 Don’t Panic

If you panic alongside your child, you could be in danger of worsening the situation. Keeping calm and speaking at a low and even tone will go a long way towards quelling a stressful moment. Understand that your child picks up on all of your cues, so remaining as calm as possible is important. Identifying your own stress triggers can be another tool for you to use when managing your child.  This applies even more so when parenting a child with special needs.