As parents, we often view the world of our children and adolescents as happy and carefree. But as much as we want this to happen, it’s usually not the case. Just as our lives have become more complicated and stressful, so have the lives of our children. In fact, even very young children worry and feel stress to some degree.
Stress is the result of demands and the ability to meet those demands. Just like us, children can feel overwhelmed at times. Toddlers may feel overwhelmed when they are separated from parents. Preschoolers may feel overwhelmed just before a new activity. As children get older, academic and social pressures create stress. While we don’t like to think about it, we can also cause stress in our child’s life. High-achieving parents may expect the same level of achievement from their children. Those children who lack their parents’ motivation or capabilities may feel frustrated and become stressed.
Changes in lifestyle and disruptions in the normal routine of people of all ages can bring about stress. Loss of anything valuable to the child; parents’ divorce, separation or marital conflict; recent death of a loved one…parent, grandparent, sibling, friend; constant fatigue brought about by inadequate rest, sleep, or recreation; regular conflict between your child and another family member, close friend or teacher are just a few examples of changes that cause stress.
A certain amount of stress is normal and not always bad. Unfortunately, children are becoming stressed at younger and younger ages today. Stress varies from child to child and how much stress can easily handle varies too. Sometimes stress can push a child on to greater achievement. But excessive stress can be self-defeating. Brenda Durosimni, M.P.A., University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, has identified signs of too much stress in a child’s life. These include:
*withdrawal from activities previously enjoyed
*bed wetting, thumb sucking, sleep disorders
*distrust and feelings of not being wanted or loved
*change in behavior and emotional upheavals
*low self-esteem and depression
Promoting a stress-free lifestyle can help children feel competent and self-confident, traits that inspire success in life and in learning. The biggest stress reducer for children is good parenting. Children can become resilient and acquire the skills to bounce back from stressful situations. To create resiliency in children, Durosimini has these suggestions:
*Be sensitive to your child’s feelings and let him/her know that you recognize that he/she has a problem.
*Be prepared to protect your child from the stressor.
*Show signs of affection such as hugs and more hugs.
*Spend time with your child to foster a healthy and supportive family relationship.
*Include laughter, fun, and exercise in your child’s daily life.
*Encourage and praise your child for things he/she does well.
*Put as much order and consistency in your child’s life as possible.
*Have realistic expectations for your child.
*Let your child express his/her feelings.
*Encourage healthy patterns of eating and sleeping.
Signs of stress in children should be taken seriously. Stress can lead to problems at home and school and affect a child’s social and cognitive development.
Carrie T. Brazeal is the County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972.424.1460, Ext.4233.