Decreasing stress in children
Is your child stressed out? Stress affects kids much more than you might think.
Anxiety attacks in 8-year-olds. Stress-related problems among a third of children under the age of 13. Sound unbelievable? It's not. After affecting adults for decades, stress has spread to kids.
Most adults tend to view the world of children as happy and carefree. After all, what could they possibly have to worry about?
Plenty! Even very young children have worries and feel stress. Stress, in a nutshell, is the result of demands and a person's level of ability to meet them. Pressures come from outside (family, friends, school) but also from within.
The internal pressures can be the most significant, because we set rules and standards for ourselves to live by, and there is often a difference between what we think we ought to be doing and what we are actually doing.
A 2-year-old may be anxious because the person she needs to help her feel good her mother or father isn't there enough. As children get older, school and social pressures create stress.
Your child's stress level may be raised by more than just what's happening in his or her own life. Does your child hear you talking about troubles at work or fighting with your spouse about money matters? Parents need to be careful when children are near because children will pick up on their parents' anxieties and start to worry themselves.
Also consider other factors, such as an illness or divorce. When these factors are added to the everyday pressures kids face, the stress is magnified. Separated or divorced parents should never put kids in a position of having to choose sides or expose them to negative comments about the other spouse.
Recognize signs of stress
It's not always easy to recognize when your child is "stressed out." Short-term changes, such as mood swings, acting out, changes in sleep patterns or bed-wetting, can be signs of stress. Some children experience physical effects, including stomachaches and headaches. Others have trouble concentrating or finishing schoolwork. Still others become withdrawn. Younger children may show signs of stress by thumb sucking, hair twirling or nose picking. Older children may begin to lie or defy authority.
How parents can help
- Realize children have stress. It's natural. It's normal. Don't make light of it, punish yourself for it or think you should always do something to "make it go away."
- Don't assume that what stresses you will stress your child. And don't think that your coping strategy will work on your child.
- Know your child. Notice what your child does naturally to cope with stress. Some children use their imagination to escape from chaos; others get active or quiet.
- Help kids help themselves. With humor, sympathy and simple logic, get the dilemma down to child size. And encourage them, with your help at first, to find things they can do to make the stress easier to handle.
- Strike a balance. Give a child enough structure so he or she usually can predict what's coming next, and enough choices so your child feels some personal power.
- Find the "good news." Supervise what they watch on TV, discuss news stories that may upset them and find the good behind the news to talk about, too.
- Don't be part of the problem. If you have a problem controlling your temper or moods, get professional help.
Finally, the biggest stress-reducer for children may be a good foundation. Proper rest and good nutrition can help increase your child's coping skills. Make time for your children each day. At any age, this "quality time" is important.