Childhood Stress (for Parents)
Sometimes I wish I was a kid again, don’t you? I would play all day long, have fun, not go to work, and not worry about paying bills. However, the world of children is not necessarily free of worry. When I am helping kids, I listen to their stories and observe how they interact. Truth be told, what I encounter, often bothers me. From an early age, their young, vital energy is being compromised, and many of them seem to be suffering on the inside.
I am a volunteer for Junior Achievement. This organization is devoted to providing students, kindergarten to Grade 12, information about entrepreneurship, work readiness and financial literacy using a hands-on approach. I travel to different schools to present material on some of their various programs.
I recently went to a Middle school to speak with the seventh and eighth graders about saving for their future, especially college. In one of the classes, I asked the kids to raise their hands if they thought they lived in a good family. The kids laughed nervously and chatted amongst themselves. Consequently, not one single hand went up! That made me wonder about the things these children might be dealing with on a day to day basis.
The youngest generation is often very competent and enthusiastic. What I observe during my talks is that children are a very receptive audience, able to absorb the information presented to them. However, this is also a very vulnerable and gentle population, exposed to various pressures that were not there when I was growing up. And notably, the list of stressors seems to be growing with each day.
What Causes Stress in Children?
A bit of stress is healthy in every child’s life. It can be positive for their development. However, excessive stress is often negative. Experts argue that children younger than ten can be more affected by stress. Kids can experience stress and anxiety, originating from multiple sources, including family, school, peers, and technology. Research also shows that children who live in poverty, come from violent environments, or who are bullied in school are more prone to external stress than other children.
It is important to realize stress in children can be caused by:
- Family instabilities (separation from family, change in family composition, arguing, interpersonal conflict, violence).
- Illness or death of a loved one.
- Worrying about schoolwork and grades.
- Bullying, peer pressure.
- Having too many responsibilities.
- Disturbing news on the TV.
- The constant presence of technological devices.
- Living in an unsafe neighborhood.
- Going through body changes.
There are other causes of stress, too, and we shouldn’t ignore them if we want to see our children thrive.
Signs like headaches, stomachaches, “feeling sick,” sleep disturbances, bedwetting, anger, crying, clinging behavior could all be a signal that something is going on with your child.
How Can You Help Kids Cope with Stress?
Children need to feel that they are safe and loved. Spending quality time with them is crucial, as well as being there for them if they need to talk. Help children recognize and express their feelings appropriately, without judgment.
It’s good to identify the source of stress. Is it schoolwork? Arguments at home? Having too many extracurricular activities? Not getting along with classmates.
Provide an opportunity to talk things out. Also, ensure your kid gets enough sleep and good nutrition.
A consistent routine is also vital for young ones. If any changes are anticipated, inform your child and help them prepare. I think it is also helpful to limit their screen time and provide opportunities to have fun, play, and exercise outdoors.
Can Hypnotherapy Help Kids?
Usually, parents have the skills to manage their child’s stress. However, there might be situations that can cause severe anxiety. If you observe serious problems coming up at school or at home and persisting changes in behavior, it might be useful to seek professional help.
One thing children can benefit from is teaching them how to relax. An experienced hypnotherapist can practice relaxation techniques with your kid in a playful way. For instance, they can learn to “take three deep breaths”; “count backward”; “tense and release muscles”; “play with play dough”; “dance.” Hypnotherapists also use creative imagery, asking the child to “imagine a favorite place to be and visit that place in your mind.”
Another essential strategy is to teach children positive self-talk. For instance, using statements such as “I think I can do this.” Children need to develop coping strategies that will work for them, for example, learning to ask for help or telling if they do not like something.
I think we are all responsible for reducing the stress factors for our young children. We should assist them in developing healthy responses to the unavoidable stresses in their lives. So, let’s work together!
Fallin, K., Wallinga, C., & Coleman, M. (2001). Helping children cope with stress in the classroom setting. Childhood Education, 78(1), 17-24. EJ 643 730.
McLoyd, V. C. (1998). Socioeconomic disadvantage and child development. American Psychologist, 53(2), 185-204.
Monk, C. F., Fifer, W. P., Myers, M. M., Sloan, R. P., Trien, L., & Hurtado, A. (2000). Maternal stress responses and anxiety during pregnancy: Effects on fetal heart rate. Developmental Psychology, 36(1), 67-77.
O’Neill, C. (1993). Relax. Auburn, ME: Child’s Play International.
Stansbury, K., & Harris, M. L. (2000). Individual differences in stress reactions during a peer entry episode: Effects of age, temperament, approach behavior, and self-perceived peer competence. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 76(1), 50-63.