Kids stress

As providers and caretakers, adults tend to view the world of children as happy and carefree. After all, kids don't have jobs to keep or bills to pay, so what could they possibly have to worry about?

As providers and caretakers, adults tend to view the world of children as happy and carefree. After all, kids don't have jobs to keep or bills to pay, so what could they possibly have to worry about?

Plenty! Even very young children have worries and feel stress to some degree.

Sources of Stress
Stress is a function of the demands placed on us and our ability to meet them. These demands often come from outside sources, such as family, jobs, friends, or school. But it also can come from within, often related to what we think we should be doing versus what we're actually able to do.

So stress can affect anyone who feels overwhelmed — even kids. In preschoolers, separation from parents can cause anxiety. As kids get older, academic and social pressures (especially from trying to fit in) create stress.

Many kids are too busy to have time to play creatively or relax after school. Kids who complain about all their activities or who refuse to go to them might be overscheduled. Talk with your kids about how they feel about extracurricular activities. If they complain, discuss the pros and cons of stopping one activity. If stopping isn't an option, explore ways to help manage your child's time and responsibilities to lessen the anxiety.

Kids' stress may be intensified by more than just what's happening in their own lives. Do your kids hear you talking about troubles at work, worrying about a relative's illness, or arguing with your spouse about financial matters? Parents should watch how they discuss such issues when their kids are near because children will pick up on their parents' anxieties and start to worry themselves.

World news can cause stress. Kids who see disturbing images on TV or hear talk of natural disasters, war, and terrorism may worry about their own safety and that of the people they love. Talk to your kids about what they see and hear, and monitor what they watch on TV so that you can help them understand what's going on.

Also, be aware of complicating factors, such as an illness, death of a loved one, or a divorce. When these are added to the everyday pressures kids face, the stress is magnified. Even the most amicable divorce can be tough for kids because their basic security system — their family — is undergoing a big change. Separated or divorced parents should never put kids in a position of having to choose sides or expose them to negative comments about the other spouse.

Also realize that some things that aren't a big deal to adults can cause significant stress for kids. Let your kids know that you understand they're stressed and don't dismiss their feelings as inappropriate.

As providers and caretakers, adults tend to view the world of children as happy and carefree. After all, kids don't have jobs to keep or bills to pay, so what could they possibly have to worry about?

Plenty! Even very young children have worries and feel stress to some degree.

Sources of Stress
Stress is a function of the demands placed on us and our ability to meet them. These demands often come from outside sources, such as family, jobs, friends, or school. But it also can come from within, often related to what we think we should be doing versus what we're actually able to do.

So stress can affect anyone who feels overwhelmed — even kids. In preschoolers, separation from parents can cause anxiety. As kids get older, academic and social pressures (especially from trying to fit in) create stress.

Many kids are too busy to have time to play creatively or relax after school. Kids who complain about all their activities or who refuse to go to them might be overscheduled. Talk with your kids about how they feel about extracurricular activities. If they complain, discuss the pros and cons of stopping one activity. If stopping isn't an option, explore ways to help manage your child's time and responsibilities to lessen the anxiety.

Kids' stress may be intensified by more than just what's happening in their own lives. Do your kids hear you talking about troubles at work, worrying about a relative's illness, or arguing with your spouse about financial matters? Parents should watch how they discuss such issues when their kids are near because children will pick up on their parents' anxieties and start to worry themselves.

World news can cause stress. Kids who see disturbing images on TV or hear talk of natural disasters, war, and terrorism may worry about their own safety and that of the people they love. Talk to your kids about what they see and hear, and monitor what they watch on TV so that you can help them understand what's going on.

Also, be aware of complicating factors, such as an illness, death of a loved one, or a divorce. When these are added to the everyday pressures kids face, the stress is magnified. Even the most amicable divorce can be tough for kids because their basic security system — their family — is undergoing a big change. Separated or divorced parents should never put kids in a position of having to choose sides or expose them to negative comments about the other spouse.

Also realize that some things that aren't a big deal to adults can cause significant stress for kids. Let your kids know that you understand they're stressed and don't dismiss their feelings as inappropriate.

Helping Your Child Cope
When kids can't or won't discuss their stressful issues, try talking about your own. This shows that you're willing to tackle tough topics and are available to talk with when they're ready. If a child shows symptoms that concern you and is unwilling to talk, consult a therapist or other mental health specialist.

Books can help young kids identify with characters in stressful situations and learn how they cope. Check out Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst; Tear Soup by Pat Schweibert, Chuck DeKlyen, and Taylor Bills; and Dinosaurs Divorce by Marc Brown and Laurene Krasny Brown.

Most parents have the skills to deal with their child's stress. The time to seek professional attention is when any change in behavior persists, when stress is causing serious anxiety, or when the behavior causes significant problems at school or at home.

If you need help finding resources for your child, consult your doctor or the counselors and teachers at school.

Kids Health | Steven Dowshen, MD

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