Stress is not a bad word. A moderate amount of stress is good. It helps the body to handle and adapt to difficult situations. However, when this stress becomes excessive, it can affect physical and mental health. While the ‘good stress’ helps us handle obstacles and perform well, the ‘bad stress’ can affect our health and leave long-lasting effects.
Can children get stressed?
We all think childhood is a carefree time while adults’ life is full of tension. So it is easy to believe adults are more prone to stress. But that’s not true. Children face unfamiliar and confusing challenges constantly. At every stage of growing up, various accomplishments are expected of them. From potty training as a toddler to competition in school, children are continuously challenged. So they can get stressed. Even 6-month-old babies can feel stress. They can absorb the stress their parents are going through, or get affected by angry faces, raised voices, rough handling, or even big changes in their daily routine.
As children grow, the reason behind their stress and their response to it changes. While some amount of stress is needed, too much stress can cause long-term psychological damage. It can impair their mental growth, ability to function, and lower their immunity. It may even lead to psychological disorders like eating disorders, paranoia, anxiety, and depression. That is why stress relief is very important for children.
What causes stress in children?
Children of different age groups face different challenges. So the cause of their stress varies.
Causes of stress in children
From babies to teenagers, the environment has a major effect on children’s stress levels. Babies can absorb the stress and anxiety of their parents. A disturbance in their routine, an unpleasant change in their environment, or caretaker can also give them stress. Babies as young as 3 months old can experience fear and sadness. So any unpleasant experience can cause them stress.
Toddlers also get affected by the home environment and the mood and behavior of their parents. Their separation anxiety, new experiences in playschool, even potty training can cause them stress. As children grow, school environment, family issues, and pressure of studies can make them tense. School bullies, peer pressure, and their need to keep up with friends can cause stress in children, especially teenagers.
Even a baby recognizes parents as their caretaker and protection. Children need to rely on parents with total trust. But when bad behavior or carelessness of parents causes children discomfort or fear, it may lead to stress. Parents fighting with each other, their anger, their stress, their expectations from the children, their excessive discipline or over protectiveness, it all can cause stress in children. So parents need to be very careful about how their behavior and parenting style is affecting their kids.
From learning to walk to adjusting to school life, children have to achieve several such milestones. All these can lead to good as well as bad stress. Parents need to be very careful as they encourage their children towards these milestones. If learning to do something like walking or doing homework feels like a discipline issue, it can lead to stress and may even manifest in tantrums and other behavioral issues. The longer the kids struggle to achieve a milestone, the more will be their stress. Parents need to be supportive and helpful at such times.
Abuse and neglect:
Children who suffer physical, verbal, or mental abuse can feel a lot of stress. And it can impact them for life. Abuse can be in the form of beating, scolding, making kids feel inferior and unwanted, etc. Children who face child abuse or humiliation can develop psychological issues that can affect them even in adulthood.
Similarly, children who suffer neglect at home or school also develop stress and psychological issues. Parents might be too busy to notice their child is feeling neglected and lonely. Sometimes, a child may feel neglected among friends or in class. All this can affect the child’s self-confidence and cause stress.
Peer pressure can be very tough for school children, especially teenagers. Children are very sensitive about what their friends think of them. So, they constantly try to win the approval of their friends. Abuse, humiliation, mockery by peers can gravely affect a child. Peer pressure can destroy a child’s mental health and may even drive them to self-harm and suicide.
How to know if your child is stressed?
Children of different age groups can respond to stress differently and show different symptoms. You need to watch out for behavioral changes and an increase in emotional outbursts and mood swings. Here are some symptoms that can indicate stress in children
- Aggression: The aggressive response to mild problems, such as hitting and biting.
- Increased tantrums: Crying and screaming at minor irritations. Older kids might appear over-emotional and might show exaggerated responses to minor problems. They might have difficulty in controlling their emotional responses.
- Sleep problems: Sleep troubles like insomnia, bedwetting, and nightmares.
- Decreased appetite: Lack of appetite and disinterest in even favorite food items.
- Physical complaints: Frequent complaints of headaches or stomach aches.
- Tension: Finding it difficult to relax and always feeling jittery and on edge.
- Phobias: Children may develop new fears or start experiencing fears they had experienced earlier.
- Avoidance: Children might refuse to visit places where their stressor is located. These might include school, playgrounds, parks, even a friend’s house.
- Withdrawal: Children might start withdrawing from play activities and social interactions..
What to do if your child is stressed?
Whether at home or school, your child needs to feel protected and appreciated. You need to ensure that your child is growing in an environment that nurtures their self-worth and protects their wellbeing.
Children cannot express their feelings. You need to pay attention to their behavior to judge if they are feeling disturbed. Help your children identify what’s disturbing them, then teach them ways to cope with these stressors. Listen to their problems, understand their struggles, and help instead of punishing. Of course, you need to teach and discipline them for their own good. But do it gently, with understanding and positive reinforcements.
Ensure a healthy home environment:
Your home environment should make your kids feel protected and cared for. A house ringing with fights, anger, and abuses cannot feel safe to a child.
No matter how busy you are, you need to make time for your children. Even if it is just one hour a day. But keep that one hour regular and assure your children you are there for them, to protect them and take care of their every need.
Be careful about the school stressors:
Schools can be full of stress for children. Your child might get troubled by a bully, or jeered by his or her own friends. A frank conversation between children and parents as well as between parents and teachers can keep school stressors in control. If your child is facing some trouble at school, help your kid to sort it out. Seek their teacher’s help if you need to. Schools too should follow a strict policy against physical or verbal abuse and bullying to make sure their students feel protected in school.
Consult a doctor:
If your child is showing excessive emotional outbursts, performing poorly in school, withdrawing from social interactions, or showing symptoms of depression, consult your child’s pediatrician.
Even a minor event like a fight with a friend can cause stress to your child. If you notice any behavioral changes in your children, don’t ignore it. Try to understand the reason behind these changes. Assure your children, you understand their feelings and are there to help and protect them. Childhood stress can leave long-lasting effects. But a loving and nurturing environment at home and school can ensure your child is happy and healthy.