Stress is the "wear and tear" our bodies go through as we adjust to our constantly changing environment. Anything that causes change in our lives causes stress. Stress can be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). Acute stress is the reaction to an immediate threat. This is commonly known as the fight-or-flight response. The threat can be any situation that is perceived, even subconsciously, as a danger.
A certain amount of stress is normal and not always bad. Unfortunately, children are becoming stressed at younger ages today. There are a number of reasons that a child might feel stress. These include: death of a loved oneparents' divorce, separation, or marital conflictremarriage of a parentmove to a new homestarting preschool, or day careinadequate physical resources like food, clothing, or shelterconstant fatigue due to lack of sleepinjuries or severe illnesschild abusefamily or community violencenatural disasterfear of failure
Reactions to stress vary with the child's stage of development, ability to cope, how long the stress continues, and the intensity of the stress. The two most common indicators that a child is stressed are changes in behavior and regression in behavior. Children under stress may react by doing things that are not normal for them.
Behaviors seen earlier in their development may reappear, such as thumb sucking and bed wetting. A child may withdraw from activities he or she used to enjoy. There may be more complaints of headaches or stomach pain. A child who has too much stress may have sleep disorders, including sleepwalking.
The child may become fearful, clingy, and anxious about being separated from a parent. Some children become more aggressive. The best stress reducer for children is good parenting.
The best stress reducer for children is good parenting. Some ways parents can help a child deal with stress are: be sensitive to the child's feelingstry to protect the child from causes of stressshow signs of affection like hugging the childspend daily quiet time alone with the childteach the child anger management and conflict resolution skillsinclude laughter, fun, and exercise in the child's daily lifehave realistic expectations for the childlet the child express his or her feelings openlyencourage healthy patterns of eating and sleepingencourage drawing, artwork, and physical activitymonitor and restrict television, movies, and computer useprovide consistency and structure to the child's lifeteach relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or exercise
Signs of stress in children should be taken seriously. Stress can lead to problems in school, and affect a child's social and cognitive development. A parent should seek help from a licensed counseling professional if stress is preventing the child from getting on with normal, everyday life.
Principles and Practice of Psychiatric Nursing, Stuart and Sundeen, 1991.
National Institute of Mental Health. "Helping Children Cope With Stress" ([hyperLink url="http://www.nncc.org/Guidance/cope.stress.html" linkTitle="www.nncc.org/Guidance/cope.stress.html"]www.nncc.org/Guidance/cope.stress.html[/hyperLink]) and "Recognizing Stress in Children" ([hyperLink url="http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/fcs//humandev/disas1.htm" linkTitle="www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/fcs//humandev/disas1.htm"]www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/fcs//humandev/disas1.htm[/hyperLink]).