How Infants & Toddlers Cope with Stress or Trauma
Infants and toddlers are too young to understand a lot of what goes on around them, and in that way they are somewhat protected from life's hardships. But small children can still be deeply impacted by stressful events, and their helplessness makes them uniquely vulnerable to any problems that do trickle through the protective wall that parents try to maintain. Here are some things you should know about the way infants and toddlers cope:
1. Toddlers and young children have emotions that can be just as intense as anyone else's, yet they are trapped by their developmental limitations. Imagine how frustrated you might feel if you were stuck in a situation you didn't like, couldn't understand, were powerless to change, and on top of it all, you couldn't even communicate to anyone how you feel. This is similar to a toddler's predicament in coping with hardships.
2. This is why tantrums are so common among kids this age. Behavior is the toddler’s way of speaking. When enduring a stressful situation, infants typically become fussy, and toddlers respond by misbehaving or becoming moody.
3. Infants and toddlers are highly sensitive to mood fluctuations in their caretakers. How well you cope will largely influence how they cope. All kids are highly attuned to the emotional climate around them, but whereas older kids can attempt to buffer themselves from this by going off to play by themselves or otherwise escaping, infants and toddlers have no means of separating themselves from what's around them.
4. Kids this age are extremely sensitive to violence exposure and conflict in the home.
5. The primary avenue of stress management for kids this age is to seek affection through physical contact. They can't communicate complex emotions, but they can climb into a caretakers arms and be cradled. Be sure to make a point of showing kids this age extra affection, and touch therapy sessions are one of the best ways to manage a child's overall stress. (Touch therapy is discussed in a later chapter.)
6. Infants and toddlers are natural explorers, but they crave stability and predictability as a foundation. It's like having a reliable base camp from which to launch your expeditions into the wilderness. Doing your best to maintain consistency in feeding times, sleep times, and other daily rituals can help kids cope. Predictability offers comfort.
7. Stress in kids this gage is often expressed through physical symptoms. An infant may exhibit irregular eating habits or begin spitting up more, and toddlers may regress to earlier stages in their development.