Stress in children

Stress response

If you went out camping in a jungle and saw a lion standing before you, you would exhibit a myriad of thoughts (what do I do now?), emotions (fear, anxiety), and behaviors (run for your life or find your gun and take target). All these constitute the stress reaction, which is also termed as the fright, fight, and flight response. A similar state may be experienced when a driver suddenly slams the brakes of a speeding car to prevent an accident, or a batsman needs a 4 or a 6 in his last shot to win the match, or a child has received a report card with poor grades and is unable to face his or her parents. Everything seems smooth in the world as long as the wheels are rolling at a pre-determined pace in every aspect of life. As soon as there is a change; there is a fluster of thought, emotion, and behavior to resist that change. This is what constitutes stress: A complete and wholehearted resistance to change.

Change: the constant

Change is the only constant in life. And change always generates resistance. Every passing day brings a revolution in some or the other dimension for every child. Facing it is stressful enough, defying it is hardly a comfortable option. If children are unable to make amends with changing situations, it affects psychological wellness. Birth of a sibling, change of residence, change in school, new strict class teacher, changed division and losing that one best friend; all are stressors that children cannot deal with. Longstanding issues like dysfunctional family relationships, physical illness, disability, studies, homework; all contribute to an increasing load on the little child’s brain.

Stress performance relationship

Some amount of worry is helpful; and rather essential for people to perform at their optimum levels. This positive pressure is well known as eustress. However excessive worry amounts to distress which hampers the child’s performance in school and also interferes with family bonding, peer relationships and overall social development. A slight apprehension keeps children on their toes, but continued pressures deplete their body of its reserves and leave them feeling overwhelmed. True children need to be stressed a little bit in order to study for their exams and desire good results. However with excess stress they may exhibit irritability, moodiness, anxiety, fear, panic, sleep disturbances, decreased appetite, and physical symptoms such as multiple aches and pains when faced with the perceived stressor.

Stress in Children

Stress is discomfort; we feel it when we react to pressure. Previously it was thought that stress is a problem of adulthood; however pressures on children today are very different from what they used to be. Stress is as common in children now as is in adults. Stress in children also goes hand in hand with depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder and aggression. It is important to watch out for signs of stress in your child.

Why stress is on the rise

If children do not have strong defenses and positive coping mechanisms they cannot bear with physical and emotional demands of life. Physical transitions of adolescence and the hormonal adjustments added with the associated mental changes can also contribute largely to teenage stress and crisis, which is becoming very common. Teenage is also the period of developing new relationships and friendships, which again bring with them, expectations and demands, which when not met, lead to stress. Terror strikes, negative events seen and heard of in the daily news; all lead to an awareness of the dark and evil side of humanity. This adds to the incidence of childhood stress.

Distress to De-stress

Stress management strategies at MINDFRAMES involve effort from the parent as well as the child to empower him/her to face and deal with the incessant challenges of life. The best way to de-stress is to build on resilience to deal effectively with demanding situations. Physical resilience comes from healthy food, exercise, adequate sleep and regular health check ups. The psychological endurance requires one to be realistic, reasonable, relaxed, and rational. Breathing exercises, relaxation, biofeedback and meditation; all can be inculcated in a child friendly manner. These help children relive the relaxed experience in stressful situations and can fight it better.

Why kids get stressed

It doesn’t take much to worry a child

  • Failure in an exam
  • Losing in some sport
  • Change of school
  • Change of residence
  • Friend moving away

Keep a watch!

These are subtle signs of stress

  • Unexplained acts of aggression
  • Refusal to accept responsibility
  • Shyness and social withdrawal
  • Refusal to mingle with friends
  • Lack of interest in most activities
  • Apprehension of social situations
  • Feelings of guilt & worthlessness
  • Low confidence and self-regard
  • Unexplained physical complaints

Frequently Asked Questions

How can children get stressed?
Exactly the same way that adults get stressed! Stress is a reaction to unwanted and unfavorable change. School pressures, extra curricular activities, the growing competition, expectations from parents; all make children worry and contribute to childhood stress.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I pick up signs of stress in my child? What must I look for?
A stressed child may show sudden alteration in behavior, decreased sleep, appetite loss, loss of weight, social avoidance, sadness or clinging behavior. Any such feature should be brought to professional notice, and corrective measures taken to deal with stress.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can we help our children?
Group therapy, where children are given coping strategies to help them deal with pressures, puppet therapy, psychodrama, drawing, clay modeling; all are methods to vent emotions which help children deal with stress.