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A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Stress

We like to think that a child’s world is all lightness and fun, but there are dark sides to the childhood experience. Especially in this age of increased expectations, rigorous study, and intense competition for educational opportunities, kids are increasingly dealing with stress in addition to all the traditional sources of bad feelings in children. Stress is no longer just a grownup problem. Kids face many of the same pressure that adults do, and they also have pressures of their own. If you think your child might be suffering from too much stress, here is what you need to know.

Sources of childhood stress
The possible causes of childhood stress are too numerous to list in full, but here are some of the most common ones:

  • Pressure to get good grades and complete demanding regimens of homework
  • Tension and rivalry between siblings
  • Bullying at school or on the playground
  • Bullying through the internet
  • Parental fighting, separation, or divorce
  • Troubling events in the news, or disturbing images in television or movies
  • Fights with friends
  • The death of someone in the family

Meanwhile, not having certain things can compound a child’s stress. For example, a child who faces some of the above pressures yet has plenty of time to play and have fun will not feel stress so acutely. On the other hand, a child who has little time to do kid activities is likely to feel the effects of stress very strongly. And these pressures can feed off each other in many ways. For instance, a child whose parents are going through divorce may react to school-based pressures particularly poorly.

Signs of stress
Kids react to stress differently than adults. While adults can usually understand on an intellectual level why they are facing the various pressures in their lives, kids respond less thoughtfully and more emotionally. They may not fully understand why they feel the way they do. All they know is that they do not feel well, and they may respond in any number ways that may seem irrational to adults.

The most common symptom is acting out. If your child has been getting in trouble at school, tormenting his or her siblings, or behaving badly toward other kids during play times, this could be a sign he or she is experiencing emotional difficulties resulting from stress. In such cases, it is important to balance any needed punishment with other forms of help to get the child on track emotionally.

Other common signs of childhood stress include bed wetting, trouble sleeping, social withdrawal, mood swings, and physical symptoms such as aches or weight loss. Among younger children, the symptoms may also include thumb sucking, lying, defiance, bullying, and bad dreams.

Dealing with childhood stress
The number one role of parents when it comes to dealing with stress is to simply be a loving and supporting presence in the child’s life. Set aside some time to spend with your child every day, and make sure he or she knows that you are available to talk about anything. Spending quality time together is key.

It is also important to make sure that kids get plenty of play time. Even in the midst of the school year, every child needs time to have fun and pursue his or her hobbies. Without an outlet for the pressures that may be present, problems can build up and become more troubling. Granted, parents do need to make sure their kids do all their homework and fulfill all their home responsibilities, but kids need time to be kids.

Finally, there are two things that parents should remember. First, some amount of stress is normal, and parents cannot completely shield their children from the pressures of the world. What they can do, however, is make sure their children feel loved and happy despite any difficulties. Second, it is a good idea to plan ahead for any situations that may make your child feel stress. By honing your family’s coping skills, you will eventually find a way to soften the blow of the harshest stressors.

By Jamell Andrews

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