This is a sponsored post from Center For Youth & Wellness about relieving a child’s stress; all opinions are my own.
Like any good parent, you want to make sure your child feels safe and comfortable in his or her home. This is even more important if your child has a disability that makes it challenging to communicate their feelings, like if he’s nonverbal or is on the autism spectrum.
Kids who have difficulty communicating challenges and problems, who don’t understand social cues, and who struggle with their emotions can be exposed to toxic stress and that can harm their mental health. Learn more about how toxic stress can harm a child’s developing body and brain.
But it doesn’t have to be that way!
It’s up to those of use raising children to create an environment in the home that is safe, secure, and comfortable for your child. How can this help? A family-healthy home will reduce your child’s stress.
Here’s how you can have family-healthy home, too.
What Does Family-Healthy Mean?
What do I mean by creating a family-healthy atmosphere? It can mean many things but I view it as a comprehensive program to make sure your child is healthy in your home and around the other family members he or she lives with. As I once heard it described by Dr. Phil, you want your child to have a safe place to fall.
While we rarely talk about it, kids on the autism spectrum have a lot of stress. While any child with a speech disability can become easily frustrated, research has shown that children on the spectrum have elevated cortisol levels compared to children who are not on the spectrum, even when they are at rest. Cortisol is the hormone released when you are stressed out. To quote the study:
“Analysis showed significantly higher peak cortisol levels and prolonged duration and recovery of cortisol elevation.:
Not only that, but according to Disability Scoop, studies also show that the more severe your child’s autism is, the more stress they are likely to have.
What does this mean for your child?
Kids on the spectrum may be stressed nearly all the time. And that is bad for both their physical and mental health.
The Impact of Stress
Stress is harmful to your health. If your child is battling disease or other health issues, stress and anxiety make it much less likely that he will get better or heal quickly. It can impact your child’s sleep, a necessary function for good mental health. Stress can also cause physical problems including chest pain, high blood pressure, fatigue, grinding teeth, and more, according to PsychCentral.com.
Reduce Your Child’s Stress With A Family-Healthy Home
Over the years, I have learned a few things – and made a few mistakes – in creating a home that serves as a stress-free environment for my daughter who is on the autism spectrum. These are my top tips on creating a family-healthy atmosphere that can ease your child’s stress.
Tip #1: Safety First
Ultimately, this goal reduces your stress too! Many children on the spectrum are in danger of elopement or “autism wandering,” that is, they wander away from the safety of adults. If your child is nonverbal or cannot express himself and ask for help, this can put him in serious danger. Many children are at risk of becoming lost, drowning, or other serious harm.
Protect your child by taking measures to keep him safely indoors, like using door locks and window alarms, and consider options for tracking him when you are not around. For example, we put up a 6-foot fence around our backyard which has a double-sided lock on the entry gate. It was a costly investment because we wanted to make sure it was a sturdy and reliable solution, however, we did get a small portion of it funded.
You may also be able to get funding or get in a local community program that tracks and protects your child. Inquire at autism providers and organizations in your area.
Tip #2: Control The Toxins In Your Home
According to Focus For Health, “Research suggests that 36% of children with ASD have food allergies.” Because of immune regulation issues that most of our children on the spectrum have, allergies and sensitivities are common. To address these issues, you should try reducing toxins in your home.
What exactly does that mean? You should look for bath, personal, cleaning, home, and feminine care products that are free of strong chemicals that give your child a health or behavioral reaction. This can be as easy as replacing your current detergents and cleaners with baking soda, white vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide. Or, it can mean switching to a shampoo brand that is free of parabens and phthalates.
What I used to recommend, and no longer do, is clean less to save your sanity. Instead, you should commit to cleaning regularly and deep clean a few times a year. If not, harmful mold and mildew will build up. That will make it very difficult should something happen, like if your child experiences regression with toileting.
Tip #3: Create A Calming Atmosphere
There should be a place or space in your home where your child can relax and maybe even hideout when necessary, in addition to their bedroom, if your home is large or your child shares a room. Some ideas for creating a calming atmosphere include:
- Painting his bedroom a soft shade of blue.
- Leave the walls of his room and counters clear.
- Organize all his stuff into bins and get him in the habit of cleaning things up. Clutter can be stressful.
- Buy a play tent or similar item for your child to enjoy inside your home.
- Diffuse calming essential oils in his room if he is not allergic or reactive to them.
- Keep tools around that he can use to exercise stress, such as jewelry that he can safely chew, stress balls, noise-blocking headphones, etc.
Tip #4: Regulation
Children on the spectrum have a hard time self-regulating, which can bring a great deal of stress to a child. What is self-regulation? According to ChildDevelopment.com, “Self-regulation is a person’s ability to adjust and control their energy level, emotions, behaviors, and attention. Appropriate self-regulation suggests that this adjustment and control is conducted in ways that are socially acceptable.”
If your child screams, has tantrums, bites himself, lashes out, or exhibits other inappropriate behavior when he encounters stress, it’s a problem with regulation and it’s not that uncommon. This is a visible sign of your child’s stress. It’s important to teach your child self-regulation techniques by using social stories, sensory tools lighted weighted items, visual schedules, and timers.
Tip #5: Manage Your Own Stress
One thing we probably all know about stress: it’s contagious! Have you ever noticed that when you are extremely tense, you children seem more emotional too? Because your child spends the most time with you, you are the person that he or she is most likely to pick up signals from even if they are not good at this task. Your stress gets passed on to him.
It’s time to find ways to manage your own stress with self-care. Self-care simply means finding the time to take care of your physical, mental, and emotional health. There are lots of healthy ways you can do this.
Managing Stress With Self-Care
You can use basic, everyday tasks to care for yourself and your family to reduce your own and your child’s stress. They include:
- Proper nutrition. Buy lots of organic produce for meals and snacks instead of sugary treats and drinks.
- Sleep. All adults need at least 7 hours a night and kids – even teenagers – require a lot more. Create relaxing bedtime routines for everyone in your family, including you!
- Mindfulness. Nothing brings me as much peace as prayer, but even if you do not practice a faith, you can practice mindful meditation to soothe your brain.
- Exercise. I cannot even tell you what a blessing Crossfit has been to my brain and body this last year! It is a great way to burn off stress as well as to help you deal with challenging situations.
- Expression. Even if your child doesn’t have expressive language skills to explain their troubles, they can demonstrate emotion. Let your child cry and express their feelings in other ways.
Personally, I love the benefits of a good cry! Here are 10 things to say to your child instead of “stop crying.” My favorite is “I hear you.”
Working Together As A Family
Whether you are married, have other children, are raising your grandchild, live with a parent or other relative, etc., every member of the family that lives together should be a cohesive team in helping your child. We can only create that family-healthy environment if we all pitch in to reduce our child’s stress as well as our own. Learn more about the benefits of healthy relationships at Stress Health.
For parents, grandparents, and caregivers who were exposed to adverse childhood experiences (ACES), you can take the ACE quiz to find out how high your stress levels are. After assessing your levels, Stress Health has tips on how to parent when ACES are part of your personal history.
No one should have to deal with toxic stress but it can be common. We must remember that we can and do pass our feelings, emotions, and outlooks onto our kids, and if they are negative, that can increase our child’s stress. Take steps today to help relieve the stress in your family.