Stress is experienced by everyone; it is a mechanism established by the body to handle and adapt to difficult situations. While little amounts of stress can be helpful, too much negative stress can cause long-term psychological damage in children. Therefore, stress relief for kids is of the utmost importance. This article will help you understand the sources of stress in children, its effects and methods you can employ to help your child cope with stress.
What is Stress in Children?
Children suffer from stress even more than adults do, as they are exposed to new and confusing environments constantly. Their sense of self-worth is intimately tied to the expectations posed by the adults around them, such as parents and teachers, but can also be influenced by their peers. If your child’s esteem takes a hit, they will find it challenging to cope with the situation.
How Common is Stress in Early Childhood?
Studies are emerging showing that stress levels in children have been increasing over the past several decades. This is mainly due to the vast amount of accomplishments expected from them to successfully compete with other kids. Being unsuccessful has become a taboo, generating a deep-set feeling of inadequacy in Indian kids, so much so that our teens and youths have one of the highest suicide rates in the world.
Types of Stress in Early Childhood
There are two main kinds of stress experienced in early childhood.
1. Good Stress
Good stress or positive pressure is important as it helps children handle obstacles and overcome them. For example, athletes and students perform better when they experience small quantities of stress from their parents and coaches, which motivates them to work harder.
2. Bad Stress
Overwhelming stress can surmount the child’s ability to cope. Serious events such as physical and emotional violence, inability to perform as expected, illness, neglectful parents, among others, can harm the child irreparably, by affecting mental development, raising blood pressure, causing sleeplessness, nightmares, lethargy, depression and so on.
Causes of Stress in Kids
There are various stressors children could face in their daily lives. Some of them are:
1. Stress in School
Kids spend half their waking hours at school, where they have to juggle scholastic responsibilities with sports, extracurricular activities and tuitions, leaving them exhausted. In addition, they might feel stress from trying to fit in a friends circle.
2. Stress Due to Family Issues
Children look at their parents for guidance and support. Stress can be caused by problems at home such as spousal fights and separation, economic issues, corporal punishment, dealing with mental disorders in the caretakers and so on.
3. Stress Due to Environment or Media
It is very common for children to get anxious about the things they see on TV, such as news of disasters, terrorist attacks and so on. Very young kids might even react to extreme violence, gore and horror in films, which can inflict an irrational fear of strange people, darkness or scary monsters. Having online lives could lead to cyberbullying by peers or strangers, which can cause severe emotional distress.
4. Other Causes
Children can also get stressed when people around them worry for any reason, be it death, sickness, or finances. Children are very sensitive to their parents’ emotional levels, so if you are anxious they will certainly pick up on it.
Which Children Are Most at the Risk of Experiencing Stress?
There are several factors that can set off stress responses in children, both external and internal:
- Serious changes in their daily routines or lives, such as divorce, shifting cities, and changing schools.
- Sicknesses and injuries in either the child or a close family member.
- Abandonment, loneliness and neglect.
- Experiencing physical, verbal or emotional abuse in the form of punishment, sexual assault and humiliation.
Signs of Stress in Kids
It is nearly impossible for young children to express their emotional states to their parents, so it is up to you to identify the signs and symptoms:
1. Physical Symptoms
- Aggressive overreactions to mild problems, such as attacking, biting, crying and screaming.
- Constant sleep problems, such as insomnia, bedwetting and nightmares.
- A decrease in appetite.
- Complaints of headaches or stomach aches are common.
2. Emotional or Behavioural Symptoms
- Inability to relax, constantly jittery and on edge.
- Developing new fears or a resurgence of past fears.
- Irritable or moody behaviour and a general inability to control emotional responses.
- Refusal to go to school, or a friend’s or relative’s home, as their stressors might be located there.
Effects of Stress on a Child
The younger the child, the greater the negative effects of stress on them. Here some ways how stress affects children:
- Impairment of normal mental growth of the child.
- Negative impact on the child’s ability to function.
- Problems in later life such as eating disorders, anxiety, paranoia and depression.
- Their immunity takes a hit due to stress hormones, leaving them vulnerable to infections.
Coping With Childhood Stress
Schools and parents are best equipped to identify and provide stress management for children who experience stress.
1. Schools Help
- Help children identify stressors and teach them ways of coping with them.
- Follow a strict policy against punishment, either verbal or physical.
- Recognise instances of bullying and care for the children involved.
- Implement an effective communication portal between parents and teachers.
2. Parents Help
- Give your child space where they feel protected and cared for.
- Listen to their problems without berating them or insulting them for not being able to solve it.
- Spend time with them in a fixed routine, which will comfort them.
- Use positive reinforcement to teach them, avoiding punishment entirely.
When to Consult a Doctor?
In many cases, good parenting can help relieve your child’s stress, but sometimes the stressors are too large to be countered at home or school. Consult with your child’s paediatrician if they are:
- Showing signs of withdrawal, depression or unhappiness.
- Displaying excessive emotional outbursts, such as fear or rage.
- Doing badly in school or simply refusing to interact with people.
Also learn the different stressors that affect children, as the kinds of stress vary with age. Realising that events we adults brush off as insignificant can cause severe stress in children is the first step to recognizing stress. The most important thing you can do to help them cope is to let them know you understand how they are feeling without dismissing their emotions as exaggerated or unnecessary.