“I have a stomach ache, I do not want to go to school today.” Or “Can I sleep with you?” or “I am not getting sleep” Have you experienced your children say these things? These could often be indicative of small or even significant stress in children.
Stress is a part of life at every age. There are many stressful events that an adult can manage while it causes unnecessary panic in a child. Even small changes can impact a child’s feelings of safety and security. Childhood stress can be caused in any setting that requires a child to adapt or change. Stress may also be caused by positive changes, such as starting a new activity, but it is often linked with negative changes such as witnessing a fight, an illness or death in the family.
Stressors can include regular life events such as worrying about grades, juggling responsibilities of school & play, problems with friends or bullies, changing schools, self-doubt, going through bodily changes – in both boys and girls, problems in the family like a financial crisis etc.
If left unchecked, long-term stress can contribute to a variety of physical problems. Prolonged stress can weaken the immune system and lead to obesity. It can also lead to anxiety and depression. In a 2018 study, researchers analysed data from the National Survey of Mental Health and found that anxiety and depression rates had increased in children aged 6 to 17, from 5.4% in 2003 to 8.4% in 2011-12.
As parents, we often believe that our children are not under stress. Nevertheless, we need be open to stress being a part of their lives. We can definitely observe our children and tune into their emotional or behavioural cues to provide support and guidance.
We can also adapt some strategies to keep stress in children in check:
Ensure children sleep well
Sleep is essential for physical and emotional growth. Experts recommend about 9 to 12 hours of sleep for 6- to 12-year-olds. Given the demands on time for study & extracurriculars, access to vast amount of multimedia and social media – often sleep may take a back seat for children. Parents may need to take a stand & facilitate good sleeping habits!
Model healthy coping mechanisms
Parents can talk to children about how they dealt with their own stressful situations. Kids feel in control when they know there are things that they can do for themselves to offset their stress. This could range from sitting calmly and reading to physical sports to alleviate stress and bring focus.
Let children be problem-solvers
It’s natural to want to fix every problem for your child. However, when parents swoop in to solve every little glitch, children don’t have a chance to learn. Let your child try to solve their low-stakes problems on their own, such as bickering amongst friends to not being able to finish a game. This will help them gain enough confidence to deal with stressors and setbacks. In fact, encouraging children to work on puzzles, find a solution or even make mistakes is recommended to enable a problem-solving mindset.
Learn more about The ‘Correct’ Age For Logical Thinking
Combat negative thinking to combat stress in children
“I’m terrible at math.” “I’ll never make the team. Why try out?” Children can easily fall into the trap of negative thinking. When children use negative self-talk, don’t just disagree; instead remind them of times they worked hard and improved. Learning to frame things positively will help them develop resilience to stress.
Do remember that not all stress is bad! In fact, in small amounts and circumstances, stress can help children rise to challenges and focus their energy to meet goals. The objective is to enable children to manage challenges or stress and come out shining!
“It is not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”
– Hans Selye