When our littles experience stress

A couple weeks ago Cohen had his 4 year well check. It was quick and simple. He is healthy and it didn’t take the doctor long to give him a head to toe check. He ended up handling it well.

But when I first told him he had to go to the doctor he was upset. It’s not unusual for kids to dislike the doctor. I mean who really likes to go? Cohen asked if he was going to get another owie. I told him “yes”. He was going to get his flu shot but it would only sting for a second. Then he showed me the scar on his leg and said “No, like this owie.” Then memories of last year came flooding back.

Last October I noticed a few red dots scattered on his body. Nothing big. I figured it was an irritation of some sort and it wasn’t that big of a deal. But they lingered and he slowly got more and more.

Then Lainey was born. And mom was gone. All he knew was us being home together every day. And while he loves spending time with his grandmas and Cha Cha and Angie, that all of a sudden became his constant. And those spots…they blew up. He was covered in them. And they itched.

He went to several Doctor appointments. None of which I was at. They did allergy testing. They took 2 biopsies. One punch and one scrape. During that appointment I joined them on speaker phone. My heart broke as they took the biopsies and he screamed in the background for his mama. I needed to be with Lainey, but my boy needed me too. And I couldn’t be in two places at once. And while I knew I hadn’t actually done this, I felt like I abandoned him.

I love our family physician and trust him. At our first appointment he thought it was mono. In addition to the spots he was run down. I can immediately tell if my kids don’t feel well by their eyes. And he had droopy eyes. But every test they took came back negative.

Our doctor concluded that what we were seeing on his skin was Erythema Multiforme. But we didn’t know the cause. I understand doctors need to give you all the options. I appreciate that. I don’t want things sugar coated for me. I can handle the truth. But when he said it could be a reaction to anything from our laundry detergent, to a virus, all the way to lymphoma, my heart sank. No way this could be happening too.

Zach and I might have gone to Buffalo Wild Wings at `10am that morning and had a beer.

We never did end up figuring out the cause. But all 3 doctors concluded it was his reaction to a virus. Rather than a runny nose and scratchy throat, his skin reacted. And while I know none of them wanted to make me feel bad, the stress he was under made it worse. He never acted stressed. He had fun spending time with his grandmas and playing with his cousins. When they came to Sioux Falls we tried to have as good of a time as we could. But a – just 3 year old – can’t verbalize how they are feeling. I’m sure he felt like his world was turned upside down. And his body was showing us how he truly felt.

Kids are resilient right!?! “They can bounce back from anything. He won’t even remember when you were gone.” Well…he remembered when he got his owies a whole year ago. I found many articles that discuss the impact stress has on a child’s brain development. Some stresses are normal and good. All children need to learn how to deal with stress. It’s a part of growing up. Heck, all adults need to learn how to deal with stress. It’s life. But toxic stress can be harmful.

If you want to read a short but good little article from a reputable source about the affect of toxic stress on children, click the link below.


While our young kiddos can’t tell us how they are feeling, we need to be attentive to the other signs. These signs alone don’t necessarily mean your child is stressed. But seeing several of them could be indicative of some issues.

  • Fear of being alone
  • Excessive or unusual clinging
  • Hitting or scratching themselves when upset
  • Crying more often than usual
  • Regressing to wetting or soiling
  • Regressing to sucking their thumb
  • Change in eating patterns
  • Nightmares or odd sleep interruptions
  • Running into walls and furniture
  • Reluctance to meet new people or excessive shy behavior

We can’t think our little people are immune to big feelings just because they are little. We need to help them navigate their feelings just like we help them learn how to crawl and walk.