In children stress can occur in any situation that forces a child to adapt or change. Stress can be triggered by positive changes, such as starting a new activity, but it is more often linked to negative changes, such as illness or death in the family.
You can help your child by learning to recognize the signs of stress and teaching healthy ways to deal with it.
Stress can be a response to a negative change in a child’s life. In small amounts, stress can be good. But too much stress can affect the way a child thinks, acts and feels.
Children learn to react to stress as they grow and develop. Many stressful situations manageable for an adult cause stress for a child. Therefore, even small changes can impact a child’s sense of security and confidence.
Pain, injury, illness and other changes are sources of stress for children. Causes of stress can include:
Worrying about homework or grades
Managing responsibilities like school and work or sports
Problems with friends, bullying or peer pressure
Changing schools, moving, coping with housing problems
Body changes in both boys and girls
Divorce or separation from parents
Financial crisis at home
Living in an unsafe neighborhood or home
SIGNS OF UNRESOLVED STRESS IN CHILDREN
Children may not realize that they are stressed. If symptoms worsen or new symptoms appear, parents may suspect an increase in the child’s stress level.
Physical symptoms include:
Decreased appetite and other changes in eating habits
Stomach aches or stomach pains
Other physical symptoms without any physical illness
Emotional or behavioral symptoms may include:
Anxiety or worry
Inability to relax
New or recurring fears (fear of the dark, of being alone or of strangers)
Rage, crying or whining
Inability to control emotions
Aggressive or stubborn
behavior Regression to behaviors typical of previous stages
Reluctance to participate in family or school activities
HOW PARENTS CAN HELP
Parents can help their children respond to stress in healthy ways. Here are some tips:
Provide the child with a healthy, safe and reliable home.
Routine at home can be comforting. Having a family dinner or movie night can help prevent or relieve stress.
Always set a good example. The child will see you as a model of healthy behavior. Do your best to control your own stress and always manage it in a healthy way.
Be selective about what TV shows, books, and games kids watch, read, and play. Violent images and programs or games can cause fear and anxiety.
Keep your child informed of anticipated changes such as a change of job or a move.
Provide your children with quiet leisure time.
Learn to listen. Listen to the child without criticizing or trying to solve the problem right away. Instead, work with your child trying to figure out and resolve what’s bothering them.
Strengthen the child’s feelings of self-esteem. Use stimulation and affection. Use rewards rather than punishments. Try to involve him in situations where he can succeed.
Give her opportunities to make choices and have some control over her life. The more a child feels in control of a situation, the better their reaction to stress will be.
Encourage physical activity.
Recognize signs of unresolved stress in children.
Seek help or advice from a medical professional, counselor or therapist when signs of stress do not lessen or go away normally.
WHEN TO CALL THE DOCTOR
Talk to your family doctor if your child:
Is withdrawn, unhappy or depressed
Has difficulty at school or interacting with friends and family
Is unable to control his or her behavior or anger