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  • Dr. Stephanie Davis

8 Ways Toddlers Show Us How to Heal From Stress

Updated: Apr 4

I’ve always been an observer. I remember so many times watching both of my children as toddlers and thinking to myself, “I wish I had that much energy, joy, and creativity in my life.”

They live so freely and in the moment without a care in the world. Can you even imagine that?? 

Probably not!  We spend way too much time adulting now. 

As over-stressed, over-worked, and over-thinking adults, our health decreases with time as we let the joy of life slip away from us and focus only on being responsible and productive parents, family members, friends, and workers. That’s no fun and it doesn’t have to be this way!

As I watched my kids, I saw their bodies work so perfectly (as all of ours should!) responding to signals from within and the environment intuitively. They have yet to become maladapted to the demands of daily life.

We need to tune back in to the cues our body sends us and slow down enough to let it respond and heal.

Here are 8 ways to do this:

  1. Finding laughter, happiness, and joy again. If you watch children, especially toddlers, they are frequently laughing or smiling. Research tells us that laughter increases mood enhancing endorphins, increases oxygen intake, and reduces stress hormone levels. Engage in activities and surround yourself with people that make you happy daily.

  2. Engage your wonder and curiosity. Children are always exploring and asking questions to make sense of their vast world. As adults, we often shut this out and opt to function in a habitual way since it requires less thought and may be less threatening. Experiencing new things and allowing the brain to wonder produces physiological changes that reduce stress if we look at them the right way. Try not to let new experiences cause you anxiety or stress, embrace them instead.

  3. Be creative and spontaneous. Toddlers are masters of pretend play and fantasy. They can make a stick or a plain box into twenty different things within an hour. Their brains integrate new information and operate with a high level of plasticity, or flexibility, allowing them this mental freedom. When adults engage in creative activities such as art, music, writing, or fantasy/pretend play, different areas of the brain are stimulated that increase happiness and plasticity, while disrupting mental patterns of stress and anxiety. Doing a spontaneous activity or an unplanned adventure can have similar effects. 

  4. Honor your feelings. Toddlers, for better or worse, are always listening to the cues from their bodies and honoring their feelings which can produce anything from extreme laughter to a massive tantrum. As adults, we are trained to not operate in these extremes, and rightfully so, however, we also have a tendency to disregard what we feel which leads to many issues such as unresolved feelings, resentment, anger, frustration, and sadness. Over time, this drains the adrenal hormone resources resulting in mood issues, hormone imbalance, and other chronic health conditions. Take time to acknowledge how you feel. If it is something you can't process on your own, get help from a professional trained in emotional and trauma therapies.

  5. Let it go. When toddlers are angry or frustrated, this isn’t a state they stay in for very long (usually!). They get upset, let it out, and move on. Whatever made them frustrated, angry, or sad is long forgotten. Most adults lost this capability long ago, but it’s something we need to re-learn. Obviously we need to process our emotions, but holding on to negative ones is damaging long term. Acknowledge the source of your frustration or anger, address the person or situation (if possible), and let it go. If that isn’t an option, writing it out may help release it from your body as well.

  6. Move and exert energy. Toddlers are little balls of energy, constantly on the go running, playing, and having fun. They aren’t camped out in front of the tv, computer, tablet, video games, or phone like older children and adults. Current research suggests that sitting and our general sedentary lifestyles are more harmful to health than smoking. Make time every day to get up and move- walk, run, hike, cycle, dance, skip, ice skate, garden, dance, skip… just move. Movement is essential to stress management and general health.

  7. Eat only when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. Have you ever noticed that children’s appetites fluctuate periodically or that they actually stop eating when they are full? Calorie intake fluctuates as kids’ metabolic demands change such as in times of growth and illness. Most kids inherently respond to the signals from their body and eat accordingly. We need to do the same since too little or too many calories places significant stress on the body.

  8. Breathe with your belly. If you watch a baby or young child breath, their bellies rise much more than their chests do. This is naturally what breathing should look like, but as adults we tend to have shallow, chest breathing because of the chronic activation of the sympathetic, or ‘fight or flight’ side of our nervous system due to stress. Softening the diaphragm and actively belly breathing reverses this process by activating the parasympathetic, or ‘rest and digest’ side of the nervous system and decreases the stress response.

The bottom line is to do what brings you happiness and joy at least once a day. Take time to tune in and listen to your brilliant body. Get on the floor and play with your kid/s. If they’re singing and dancing- join in! Go splash in a puddle or play in the dirt. Smell the flowers. Breathe. Just have FUN! 


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