Recognizing the signs and helping kids cope

A preschooler's life may seem like fun and games, especially when compared to the demands of adult life, but there are actually many things that can worry those precious little minds. New schools, new siblings, new teachers or new routines - any change, big and small alike, can send a preschooler into a tizzy that would rival any adult's.

The Curtis family, of Clintonville, knows all about stressful change. The Curtises - mom Barbie, dad Matt and their five children, ages 2 to 8 - recently returned from spending a year traveling throughout southeast Europe for Matt's doctoral program in Slavic Studies at Ohio State University.

While the entire family had to endure the stress of new homes, new cultures and new languages, the two preschool-aged children, Matthew, then 5, and Tyndale, then 3, each experienced their own struggles.

"Tyndale in particular had a really hard time with the changing concept of 'home,' " explained Mrs. Curtis. "He would cry uncontrollably and refuse to come into the new apartment. Both he and

Matthew also started having difficulty sleeping and would be easily overwhelmed."

Reactions like these are common, said Justin Fogt, clinical supervisor for the Help Me Grow program at Nationwide Children's Hospital. According to Fogt, other signs of stress can include headaches and stomach aches, trouble concentrating, change in appetite or compulsive behaviors.

"Children this age don't have the full ability to express their own concerns (so they) can then manifest themselves in behavior," said Sharon Balduf, director of Hilliard City School District Preschool.

Although these behaviors may appear in all children at one time or another, any ongoing deviation from a child's normal demeanor may signal stress, Balduf explained.

Fortunately, parents can have a big impact on little minds. Playing together, both as a family and one on one, creating routines, helping a child put names to feelings, and engaging in problem solving can help children feel validated and less stressed out.

"Promoting healthy family attachments is one of the best ways parents can help kids reduce stress," said Fogt.

The Curtises found that sticking to a normal routine as much as possible helped.

"I tried to keep things as familiar as possible," Curtis said. "Bedtime in particular was very important. We also let them bring two special items from home
with them to help them feel comfortable."

Curtis also credits regular family activities and just being silly together as ways that helped ease the kids' minds.

"I actually miss how united we were," she said. "It's much harder now that things have calmed down!"