Written by: Steven Petter
Even in a society where someone only has to stub their toe to be diagnosed with stress, it’s hard to imagine our little bundles of joy being subject to the same pressures, but recent research has shown that childhood stress is a real problem and can go on to affect them into adulthood
What is stress?
Stress is the result of anxiety and pressure resulting in a feeling of being overwhelmed and often attributing to physical illnesses. Childhood stress¬†can be caused by a multitude of factors, separation from parents for example. As a child gets older, the external causes of anxiety become more prominent and if they are not equipped to deal with the pressures then they may fall foul of the emotional overloading, for example if your child does a lot of after-school clubs and is suddenly inundated with homework, their natural desire to please everyone may leave them feeling overwhelmed if they cannot complete all the tasks they are set.
These studies also indicate that children who are subject to early trauma, such as family break-up, violence and injury, amongst others, exhibit signs of anxiety when recalls those emotions and are more likely to have negative emotions as a result, stress will occur when they are overwhelmed by these emotions and may start to display physical problems (Pynoos et al, 1999).
Recognise signs of stress
The key, as a parent, is recognising when your child is showing signs of stress, or realising what situations may cause extra pressures on your child, not forgetting of course that a small amount of stress can actually help performance if managed appropriately. A lot of children, of all ages, will find it hard to talk about how they are feeling, mostly because they probably don’t understand what the feeling is, so look for sings of changes in behaviour such as being unusually withdrawn, grumpy, snappy or unwilling to participate in activities such as family outings or sports clubs.
Keep a dialogue with the parents of your children’s friends as our kids will often tell friends things they won’t tell us and the friend may have let this slip in conversation with their parents, perhaps they aren’t getting along anymore, you may need to find out why. Stress can also manifest itself physically in feelings of sickness or headaches so be aware if your child is complaining of these symptoms more often, especially if they are occurring around events such as exams.
How can we help?
The big question I suppose is, what can we do about it? Well, the problem with stress is that you need to tackle the underlying cause to make any real headway, which means talking to your child and trying to find out what is causing their anxiety. It will often be school pressures, such as not understanding a certain type of work or suddenly finding themselves not performing as well as they did previously, all of which can be helped by talking to the teacher.
Sometimes bullying can be the cause in which case you need to find out as much detail as possible, such as who is involved, how bad the bullying is and what is causing it, there are many roots you can take to deal with bullying including mediation between the students or a one-on-one chat with the child’s parents. If bullying is a constant problem for your child then finding a way to boost their confidence, such a martial arts, not for fighting but to make them take a bit more pride in themselves, outdoor pursuits such as Bushcraft and Camping can also boost a child’s self esteem.
Getting your child to talk
What is key when dealing with stress is getting your child to talk, it is hard but once you start a dialogue you will find that those pressures start to release, think of it as a pot which is about to boil over, once you take the lid of it settles down again. Encourage your child to engage in physical activities as studies show physical exercise increases blood flow to the brain and releases hormones which can improve a bad mood. Lastly, be aware of how much your child has to do, a lot of adults think that children have it easy but they really don’t, and their perception of how hard life is will differ greatly from yours so keep a close watch on their workload and make sure you have control over what they are watching on television as anything with high degrees of suspense may aggravate your child’s feelings.