We don’t often associate stress with childhood, but chronic stress in children is a very real problem that is on the rise in America and other parts of the world. Let’s take a look at chronic stress in kids and what we can do as adults to reduce it.
Chronic Stress and Our Children
Every year the American Psychological Association (APA) conducts the Stress in America Survey. In 2010 they included the YouthQuery survey for young people. Those aged 8 to 12 were considered tweens and those 13 to 17 were defined as teens. The results were alarming, showing not only that children do indeed suffer from chronic stress but also the impact that it has on their physical health as well as their mental health. And, much of the stress stemmed from seeing their parent’s stress as you can see from the following stats:
- 47 percent of tweens and 33 percent of teens said they feel sad when their parents are stressed.
- 36 percent of tweens and 43 percent of teens admitted to feeling worried when their parents are stressed.
- 25 percent of tweens and 38 percent of teens said they feel frustrated when their parents are stressed.
It isn’t only school-aged children who suffer from the effects of stress either; chronic stress can affect pre-schoolers as well.
What Defines Chronic Stress?
There are different kinds of stress that children experience, from positive stress like that experienced when meeting new people or trying new things to everyday stress from things like not getting what they want. Then there’s chronic stress which comes from traumatic events or exposure to long-term stressors. Some examples are:
- divorce or separation of parents
- serious and ongoing conflict in the family
- serious illness in the child or a loved one
- death of a loved one
- being bullied or abused for extended periods
What You Can Do
As a parent or caregiver, you can help to reduce chronic stress in a child. The first step is being able to spot the signs of stress in a child—something that’s not always easy, especially in younger children who aren’t yet able to verbalize what they are feeling. For many children, complaints of physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches are common indicators of stress. Weight gain or weight loss is also common in chronic stress in children, along with acting withdrawn and losing interest in the things that they enjoy. Negative changes in behaviour may also be an indicator of chronic stress, such as irritability and fighting or not paying attention.
Listening to your child and paying close attention to their behavior can go a long way in helping you identify a problem with stress and sometimes even the source of the stress. Trying to speak to your child about what they are feeling might not always work, in which case you may need to seek the help of a professional who specializes in children’s mental health.
The following are other things that parents and family members can do to reduce chronic stress in children:
- Keep your own stress levels in check. Just as I mentioned at the start of this post, your stress has an impact on your child’s stress levels. Learn to cope with your own stress and avoid exposing your child to stressful situations, such as arguments between spouses, or details of financial and other “grownup” stressors.
- Encourage the child to make friends. According to the Child Study Center at New York University, children who lack close friendships are at risk of developing stress-related difficulties. They recommend scheduling play dates and other social activities.
- Give the child stability in their schedules as most children thrive when they have established routines and familiarity in their everyday lives.
- Be easy to talk to and let the child know that the lines of communication are always open. A good relationship with parents makes children feel better about themselves.
- Give them time to let loose and unwind through play and other activities that they enjoy. It’s not always easy with kids today participating in all kinds of extra-curricular activities, but scheduling some “free time” for them to just be kids helps them to relax.
You can click here for more information on children’s health issues and stress.
Adrienne is a freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and fitness for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board. You can connect with Adrienne on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/writeradrienne.
- Stress in America Findings.(November 2010). American Psychological Association (APA). Retrieved May 15, 2014, from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2010/national-report.pdf
- Kids Have Stress Too!. (2013). Psychology Foundation of Canada. Retrieved May 15, 2014, from http://www.psychologyfoundation.org/pdf/KHST_Booklet_for_Parents.pdf
- Hack, Sabine MD.(May 2001). Stress in Children: What It Is, How Parents Can Help. NYU Child Study Center. Retrieved May 15, 2014, from http://www.aboutourkids.org/articles/stress_in_children_what_it_how_parents_can_help