As discussed in the November 27 newsletter, childhood stress is a very real and significant concern. The busier and more dynamic families become, the greater the potential for children to become anxious and stressed.
Children as young as two can experience stress from separation from their parents. As children get older, social and academic pressures can be very heavy for a child. Although sometimes children put pressure on themselves, well-meaning parents can also put extreme pressure on their children unwittingly. Specifically, well-educated or successful parents often expect the same drive and focus that they value, even for children who do not have those capabilities or motivations.
Even after-school activities, such as sports or hobbies, can put children under high stress levels. If children are not given enough time to play creatively and relax, their emotional well-being may begin to suffer from anxiety or stress. If a child complains about going to scheduled activities, it may be a sign that they are over-committed. Talk to your child about how they feel about their responsibilities, and see if they feel they could cut back. If stopping an activity is not feasible, try to set up a time management plan with your child to help them manage their scheduled demands.
Children often feel the effects of stress outside of their own lives as well. Children are much smarter and much more intuitive for which adults give them credit. Do your children hear you worrying about your job, your finances, your marriage? Children not only model observed behavior, but absorb non-verbal cues as well. Be careful what your child hears or notices, as they can worry about your problems as well.
Another important thing to keep in mind is children deal with stress in different ways than adults. Not only do most kids internalize their concerns, but when everyday stressors are combined with situational stress, the stress is magnified. For example, the day-to-day pressures of athletic and academic responsibilities are stressful to a child, but manageable. Add an illness or death, a divorce, a move, a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, etc. and it becomes overwhelming for a child to handle.
Be on the look out for any behavioral or mood changes in your child, as it may be a sign of stress. Academic concerns or physical symptoms may also indicate childhood stress. However, there are easy ways to help your child cope with stress.
The obvious ways are ensure enough rest and good nutrition. When your child has replenished his/her defenses, better coping skills can be used. One-on-one time with parents is also a very effective method for understanding what your child is dealing with and for developing strategies to combat the effects of stress. Additionally, prepare your child for upcoming events that may be stressful and explain what may take place during that time.
Allow your child to be a part of the planning process for dealing with the stress of life. Find out if your child would like to eliminate an obligation, start a journal, develop an exercise plan, etc. The more involved the child is in the solution, the more he/she will benefit from it.
Finally, help your child understand that some level of stress is normal. Reassure them that some amount of fear, anxiety, fatigue and frustration is normal. Encourage them to share their feelings and affirm that other people feel the same way.