Eczema families face higher stress due to the constant attention required to manage our child’s skin, including the itch and the scratching. Marcie Mom interviews Lori Lite, founder of Stress Free Kids®, who has a line of books and CDs to help children reduce stress, anxiety and anger.
Lori started her business when trying to settle her young son to sleep and reduce night terrors of her daughter. Her Indigo Dreams® audio book/CD series has been awarded the CNE Award of Excellence. Lori has been interviewed and/or featured in NY Times, MSNBC, ABC Radio, CBS News, USA Today, Web MD and Prevention Magazine. She is a certified children’s meditation facilitator and parenting stress expert and gained national attention when she appeared on Shark Tank.
What is Stress?
Stress is a reaction that affects our mind and/or body when we are confronted by a ‘stressor’ – something that angers, scares or worries us. For the child, stress can trigger or worsen the eczema – Dr Christopher Bridgett and Dr Claudia Aguirre shared about stress brain and skin connection.
Apart from impact on skin, stress can affect a child’s learning, sleep, emotions and ability to handle stressful situations. Not all stress is bad, as some normal stress encountered prior to a test may help the child to prepare for it. Unfortunately, with eczema, the stress can be chronic (just like eczema) as persistent eczema flares, scratching, lack of sleep and self-esteem can build up in a child.
How to Know if Your Child is Stressed?
MarcieMom: Lori, can you share with parents how we can identify that our child is stressed, in particular, for an infant or toddler? Can a new-born be stressed? (I’m thinking of all the writhing and fidgeting of my baby when her eczema already affected her at two weeks old!)
Lori: Recognizing stress in new-borns and toddlers is difficult. As you noted, you felt your baby’s body language was telling you something was out of balance at only two weeks old. Babies that stiffen their bodies, arch their backs, grimace, and cry frequently can be exhibiting signs of stress. I always tell parents to trust their instincts. Parents, especially moms, know when something is wrong with their children. Keep an eye out for a change in your child’s behavior. For example: clingy behavior is a sign of stress in toddlers. However, some toddlers are clingy. So if your child is usually not the clingy type and they are suddenly attached to your leg, then that would be a change in behavior.
Babies that stiffen their bodies, arch their backs, grimace, and cry frequently can be exhibiting signs of stress.
Some of the signs in children also include: no longer wanting to go to school, an increase in nightmares or night terrors, difficulty falling and staying asleep. Physical symptoms can present themselves as unexplained stomachaches, headaches, or other ailments. Sometimes the child will withdraw from friends and family members, or have frequent meltdowns, which is a common sign of stress for toddlers. It is important for moms or parents dealing with the additional challenges of eczema to be aware of and manage their own stress. Babies, children, and teens pick up on our stress. It is contagious and we must find healthy ways to manage stress and anxiety. We can set a great example to our family and send a ripple of calm throughout the house.
Causes and How to Cope with Stress
In a survey of 1,206 young people, 44% are stressed over performance in school and 30% are stressed over family’s finances. In an article on StressFreeKids.com, it is mentioned by David Code, author of “Kids Pick Up on Everything” that “Parental stress can weaken the development of a child’s brain or immune system, increasing the risk of allergies, obesity, or mental disorders.”
In other words, “Stress is highly contagious between parent and child, even if the parent is unaware of his or her own anxiety.”
Children cope with the stress they face, usually by doing activities that relax them, such as exercise, music, TV or talking to a friend. As a parent, we can try to help our child cope in a healthy manner, ways that help their mind and body and won’t cause harm such as hitting themselves or others.
Reduce Stress Techniques for Kids
MarcieMom: Lori, your books and CDs focus on a few techniques, namely breathing, muscle relaxation, affirmative statements and visualization. For breathing, you mentioned
(i) Have your child lie on their back and put their hand on their belly.
(ii) Take a slow deep breath in through their nose and let it out through their mouth with a gentle ah-h-h-h-h-h-h sound. (They should feel their belly rise and fall).
(iii) Breathe in slowly through their nose and out through their mouth like they are trying to move a feather up in the air.
(iv) Breathe in slowly to the count 2, 3, 4 and out 2, 3, 4.
(v) In 2, 3, 4 and out 2, 3, 4.
For breathing and muscle relaxation exercises, which age is appropriate to start?
Lori: It is never too soon for a child to reap the benefits of relaxation and meditation. There are reports that state that stress levels during pregnancy can affect an unborn child. I used deep breathing throughout my last pregnancy and I believe that because of this my newborn was easier to soothe when I focused on my breathing. In general the age of 4 is when a child can start to participate in relaxation exercises, but I have seen children as young as 18 months copy breathing and positive statements. Self-care, relaxation and stress management can begin at any age and should be part of daily living. When you feel stressed, tell your children that you are takeing a minute to focus on your breathing. Add visualizing breathing in happy, calm air…Throw an affirmation in like, “I am calm.” Children will copy what they see. Don’t be surprised if they climb up on you lap and breathe with you.
MarcieMom: You also recommended using affirmative statements, and also asking ‘What-If’ positive scenario questions. What age is suitable for this, and can you recommend a few ‘what-if’ questions and affirmative statements that parents with eczema children can use? (I was thinking ‘What if you don’t feel itchy?’ but then I’m WORRIED that will get the child to think about the itch!)
Lori: As soon as children start asking “what-if” and inserting their own fear-filled or negative outcomes, this is the time to implement repeating their “what-if” question and finishing with a positive outcome. For example, the child says, “What if my eczema gets worse?” and the parent says, “What if your eczema gets better?” Another example would be if the child asks, “What if the kids laugh at me?” In turn, the parent should suggest, “What if you find friends that accept you?” Many children with eczema have food based allergies and might say, “What if I can’t eat anything yummy ever again?” We can empower children by answering, “What if we find new foods together that we can have a picnic with?”
The important aspect in affirmative statements is helping the child see a positive side, and have them focus on a positive outcome that rather than negative. You intuitively knew not to use the word itch in an effort to avoid bringing attention to it. We also want to avoid saying “not.”
MarcieMom: Thank you Lori so much for giving us a few techniques to relieve the daily stress. p.s. to readers of eczemablues.com, I did not receive any money from Lori or StressFreeKids for this interview