When children are showing signs of stress we don't always pick up on it right away. To adults, it often seems that kids have a simple, carefree life with nothing to get stressed about. But if we think back to our own childhoods we may remember that it did not always feel so easy.
It is true that the things that bother kids are different, and may seem unimportant to an adult. The people who scare kids mostly wouldn't scare an adult – they are other kids or maybe very old people. But the fears, anxieties and stresses of childhood have just the same physical effects on the child as adult anxieties and stresses have on an adult, and those effects are just as serious.
Many of the signs of stress in children are the same as for an adult. For example:
– digestive problems
– loss of appetite, or 'comfort eating'
– more attacks of any health problem that they are prone to, like asthma or eczema
– muscle tension which may show as making fists or frowning or other expressions on the face
In addition, many kids under stress will pick up new habits or revert to behaviors that you thought they had left behind, for example:
– thumb sucking
– bed wetting
– grinding teeth
– over-attachment to certain toys
– telling lies
Some of the things that cause signs of stress in children include:
1. Believing they are not performing as well as they should be performing.
This can be a question of not living up to parents' or teachers' expectations, or not doing as well as a sibling or friend, either academically or socially. It may also come from having unrealistic expectations in their own mind.
2. Fears of death and physical injury.
These fears may be prompted by physical threats from other kids, or they can be caused by world and local events, either in movies or for real on the news (earthquakes, house fires, kidnappings, murders, etc). Even something like constantly hearing 'Be careful!' can be stressful for a child.
3. Separation anxiety.
Very small children can show signs of stress if they are separated from their main caregiver, even for a short time. Older kids become accustomed to not being with mom all day, but they will still suffer from stress if a parent is in the hospital or if the parents split up. Children can also become very stressed by the fear of abandonment or the fear of the death of their parents, on whom their lives depend.
In other words, although the things that a child is stressed about may be less important on a world scale, the signs of stress are equally severe as for adults, and so are the effects, both physical and psychological.
So how should we handle signs of stress in children?
1. For stress reduction in kids, one of the most important things to focus on is empowering the child so that they feel in control of the important aspects of their lives. Sure there are some bad things that happen that they cannot control, but show them that there is also a lot that they can control.
2. Be sure they have a healthy diet and plenty of exercise. Many of the effects of stress are physical and come from having too much stress-released adrenaline pumping around the body. Sports can help to work that off.
3. Spend time talking with them and truly listening to what they have to say without judging them. Let them know that what they are feeling is OK. Reassure them that you have confidence in them and their special, individual talents and abilities. Never compare them to other children, either in the family or outside of it.
Occasional stress is normal for kids the same as for adults, but excessive or chronic stress should be treated. If you are concerned about any stress that a child may be suffering, it is best to talk to a professional. The signs of stress in children must be taken seriously.