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Childhood Stress

What is stress?
Stress is a response to any situation or factor that causes a negative emotion or physical change.  All ages can experience stress.  Some stress is helpful because it provides motivation.  However, excess stress can interfere with life, activities and health.

Signs of unresolved stress in children
Children may not recognize that they are stressed.  Parents may suspect that the child is excessively stressed if the child has experienced a potentially stressful situation and begins to have symptoms such as:

Physical symptoms:

  • headache
  • upset stomach or vague stomach pain
  • sleep disturbances
  • nightmares
  • new or recurrent bedwetting
  • decreased appetite, or other changes in eating habits
  • stuttering
  • other physical symptoms with not physical illness

Emotional or behavioral symptoms:

  • anxiety
  • worries
  • inability to relax
  • new or recurring fears (fear of the dark, fear of being alone, fear of strangers)
  • clinging, unwilling to let you out of their sight
  • questioning (may or may not ask questions)
  • anger
  • crying
  • whining
  • inability to control emotions
  • aggressive behavior
  • stubborn behavior
  • regression to behaviors that are typical of an earlier developmental stage
  • unwillingness to participate in family or school activities

How can parents help?
Parents can help children respond to stress in healthy ways.  Some things parents can do include the following:

  • Provide a safe, secure, familiar, consistent and dependable home
  • Be selective in the television programs that young children watch (including news broadcasts) which could produce fears and anxiety
  • Spend calm, relaxed time with your children
  • Encourage questions
  • Encourage expression of concerns, worries or fears
  • Listen to your children with out being critical
  • Build your child's feelings of self-worth.  Use encouragement and affection.  Try to involve your child in situations where he or she can succeed
  • Try to use positive encouragement and reward instead of punishment
  • Allow the child opportunities to make choices and have some control in his or her life. 
  • Encourage physical activity
  • Develop awareness of situations and events that are stressful for children
  • Recognize signs of unresolved stress in your child
  • Keep your child informed of necessary and anticipated changes such as changes in jobs
  • Seek professional help or advice when signs of stress do not decrease or disappear

What can children to to relieve stress?
Children can do some things for themselves to help reduce stress. Tips include the following:

  • Talk about your problems.  If you cannot communicate with your parents, try someone else
  • Try to relax.  Listen to calm music. Take a warm bath.  Close your eyes and take slow deep breaths
  • Exercise.  Physical activity reduces stress
  • Set realistic expectations.  Do your best, and remember that nobody is perfect
  • Learn to love yourself and respect yourself.  Respect others. 
  • Remember that drugs and alcohol NEVER solve problems

Ask for help if you are having problems